Friday, February 22, 2013 / 7:58 AM
When the viewer first glimpses dejected Tel Aviv cardiologist Yossi (Ohad Knoller), he is slowly waking from a power-nap in an unused hospital bed. This moment, it turns out, succinctly foreshadows the overall trajectory of Yossi's story: a man being gradually roused from a decade-long slide into apathy and self-loathing.
Yossi is director Eytan Fox's pseudo-sequel to his 2002 romantic tragedy, Yossi & Jagger, in which Knoller portrayed a young Israeli army officer who was deeply enamored with his moltenly handsome second-in-command. The earlier film is not, however, necessary viewing for Yossi, which is a remarkably self-contained story set roughly ten years later. Fox's new film is such a precise and superbly performed work of portraiture that everything the viewer needs to know about Yossi's history is right there on screen.
Knoller's appealing yet distinctly sad-sack presence holds Yossi together during its first half, wherein a chance encounter sends the titular doctor into a downward spiral of heartsick remembrances and self-pitying missteps. Fox's exacting, gradational approach to Itay Segal's script renders this phase of the film as a sharp, sullen character study, short on gripping drama and long on careful observation of Yossi's despondency.
Just when the doctor's meek wallowing begins to chafe, however, he crosses paths with Tom (Oz Zehavi), a charismatic, chiseled, and openly gay army officer. The younger man's swaggering flirtations scratch at Yossi's unresolved guilt while offering the tantalizing possibility of mutual passion. The pair's circling sets up a confrontation with the film's central, simmering question: Can someone accept love without first loving themselves? It's not the first or the finest romance to explore this query, but Yossi is nonetheless an affecting and finely wrought queer variation on the theme.
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