Yossi & Jagger

Laura Clifford 
Yossi & Jagger
Robin Clifford 
At a remote Israeli Army outpost on the Lebanese border, a healthy male camaraderie and occasional visits from female soldiers keep spirits up between combat missions.  Ofir (Assi Cohen) is attracted to Yaeli (Aya Steinovitz, "Late Marriage") and is upset when he learns that she, in turn is attracted to the popular Jagger (Israeli soap star Yehuda Levi).  But what no one knows is that second-in-command Jagger is in a homosexual relationship with the unit's commander - they're "Yossi & Jagger."

Director Eytan Fox addresses weighty issues in screenwriter Avner Bernheimer's simple-on-the-surface love story.  "Yossi & Jagger" looks at the tragedy of loss of young life in wartime (service in Israel's military is mandatory) as well as the loss of freedom to love whom one chooses in a regimented environment.

Fox establishes an environment of youthful exuberance immediately when Yaniv the Cook (Erez Kahana) and others turn Yossi's (Ohad Knoller) order to bury a broken freezerful of rotting meat into an impromptu funeral service (while also foreshadowing the potential fate that hangs over them all). Yossi requests that Jagger accompany him on rounds and we learn that the duo are a couple who need excuses like this to slip away.  During Yossi's absence, the Colonel (Sharon Raginiano) arrives with Goldie (Hani Furstenberg) and Yaeli.  Returning to base, a slightly panicked Yossi rushes to the Colonel and discovers his unit is being ordered on an ambush that very evening.  When Jagger hears the orders, he begs Yossi to declare his love, openly or even privately, in case he should die without ever having heard the words.  Although Yossi is a pacificist, protective of all his men, he refuses Jagger's request under the cover of patriotic duty.

While the initial tone of the film makes us feel like we're watching an Israeli adaptation of M.A.S.H., a shift towards drama during Jagger's confrontation with Yossi builds to a climax that has real emotional punch.  Ohad Knoller has strong presence as the robust and cheerful unit commander.  Knoller makes Yossi a likable leader with strong empathy for his men and a practical outlook on the conflict of his military responsibility and his relationship.  He's the film's strongest presence.  Levi's Jagger has a rock star mystique (hence his nickname) and a playful outlook that strike sparks of two different kinds with Yossi.  Levi gambols about, changing lyrics to popular songs towards gay double entendres, a habit that amuses Yossi in private but makes him scowl in public (writer Bernheimer sprinkles those double entendres around his script in unintentional situations as well).  Steinovitz's Yaeli is full of naive yearning and she's nicely paired with the more outrageous Furstenberg, "Yossi & Jagger's" Hot Lips.  Cohen becomes a touch too psychopathic as the jealous Ofir, although director Fox perhaps intended his audience to believe Ofir would have more involvement in Yossi and Jagger's fate than he eventually does.  Kahana provides many humorous moments, boisterously busy in his pithy cook's apron.  The cast is rounded out by Yuval Semo as Psycho, Yaniv Moyal as Samoncha and Hanan Savyon as Adams.

When Jagger first attempts to seduce Yossi on a snowy hill, Yossi complains that a rabbit is watching and Jagger gets rid of it with a well aimed snowball.  Later in the film, Jagger appears in a rabbit costume in a scene rife with melancholy significance (and finds "Yossi & Jagger" a place among the recent 'odd rabbit reference movies' that includes "Donnie Darko," "Novocaine" and "Sexy Beast" in the bargain).  Even as it delves into deeper subjects, "Yossi & Jagger's" charismatic costars make its central love story alone a memorable experience.

“Make love, not war” is the underlying theme of the Israeli film “Yossi & Jagger,” the all-too-brief story of the love between two soldiers living in constant peril in a remote army camp on the border with Lebanon. This is a slight film – its Israeli-TV 65-minute run time makes it all too brief and a little too concise – that attempts to explore the subject of gay love in the military without making it a political statement.

“Yossi & Jagger” is not the kind of movie that one can easily pigeonhole. The “gays in the military” subject matter is not one that has been delved into much over the last several decades with only the daring 1968 film, “The Sergeant,” starring Rod Steiger, coming to immediate mind. The relationship between Yossi (Ohad Knoller) and Jagger (Yahuda Levi), two young officers in the Israeli Army, is natural and almost innocent – especially when contrasted with the lecherous just-sex relationship that their commander has with his femme assistant, Goldie (Hani Furstenberg).

The film starts out at an Israeli military encampment on the snow blown frontier with Lebanon. The unit, led by Yossi, is on alert for terrorist activity and his colonel (Sharon Raginiano) has ordered a nighttime ambush on insurgents in the area. Yossi and his adjutant, Jagger, go out on patrol to check the base perimeter and, in the snow, partake in a bit of horseplay that soon turns into a sexual tryst. We immediately understand that this is not the first time these two have fallen into each other’s arms. They are lovers very comfortable in each other’s company.

Back at the base, with the planned ambush in the works and only hours away, tensions are high and the soldiers, male and female, blow off steam. One femme warrior, Yaeli (Aya Steinovitz), is strongly (and quietly) attracted to the handsome Jagger but another soldier, Ofir (Assi Cohen), himself attracted to pretty Yaeli, warns her off as “not Jagger’s type.” The tacit understanding of the soldiers on the base about their two officers is matter of fact and without judgment.

This day-in-the-life of an Israeli army unit shows well the hours of boredom that a soldier must live with as well as the moments of sheer horror they may face at any time. The mixed sexual preferences of the troopers is not is not an issue as they are more concerned with survival than with judgments about their fellows. “Yossi and Jagger” wears its heart on its shirtsleeve with its statement about love versus sex. The chemistry between the two men is palpable with handsome, younger Jagger making post-army plans with Yossi to go away together. This long-term planning, though, sets the tone that tragedy will happen. It does but it is still a shocking loss for the front line warriors.

Techs are good for a low budget film with lensing by Yaron Scharf capturing the stark landscape of the mountainous, wintry Israeli hinterland effectively. Acting, too, is natural and affective, especially between the title characters, with Yahuda Levi giving an effective and complex characterization to his Jagger.

“Yossi and Jagger” could have been, if expanded to feature length, a solid entry of a gay-oriented film into mainstream tastes. Director Eytan Fox shows a skilled hand, with the help of his actors, in creating a film that may have an international appeal with the gay community and beyond. The slightness of the film’s run time precludes full development of the material. I give it a B.

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