Ohad Knoller and Yehuda Levy star in Yossi and Jagger. Director Eytan Fox views himself as something of a cultural ambassador for Israel.Yossi and Jagger, an original and controversial Israeli film that has captured international attention and garnered honors at film festivals will be released in the United States this fall.
The film was an entry in the official feature film competition at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City this month along with 14 other independent films from all over the world. Lead actor Ohad Knoller won the award for “Best Actor.”
In the film, Knoller’s character, Yossi, is one of two IDF officers who fall in love and have a secret love homosexual affair. Knoller said that it wasn’t difficult portraying a gay character like Yossi, and stressed that the film was about more than just homosexuality.
“It’s about things we are all familiar with: love, secrets, macho behavior and army,” he told the Hebrew publication Olam HaIsha. “The homosexual theme derives from the other issues. I think that it would be more difficult for me to play a drag queen, or a more feminine-like character. It would have meant, for me, to change my whole body language and posture. Playing a gay person is no more difficult than playing a lawyer. It’s just another characteristic you have as a human being.”
The Tribeca winners were announced at the closing ceremony held at Stuyvesant High School in NYC. American director Nora Ephron headed the jury that included actress Parker Posey, director Stephen Gaghan and the playwright Jon Robin Baitz. Actress Whoopie Goldberg presented the best Actor Award.
The film’s North American distribution will start late September and early October in NYC and LA respectively, following its enthusiastic reception at Tribeca, as well as at major international film festivals, including Berlin and Montreal.
Director Eytan Fox’s film revolves around the lives of a group of Israeli soliders stationed in the north of the country near the Lebanese border. It is not a traditional war film in the macho action genre: instead, its focus is clearly on the lives of the soldiers, their interactions, relationships and personal issues.
Yossi, Knoller’s character, is the popular platoon commander who is tough but compassionate and admired by his soldiers. He struggles between his desire to devote his career and life to the Israeli army, and the fact that he is gay and in love with one of the soldiers who reports to him. His lover is a lower-level officer, a company commander named Lior, nicknamed Jagger for his rock-star looks and attitude. Jagger’s played by Yehuda Levy, a popular actor best known for his role in the Israeli telenovella “The Lives of Love.”
In addition to the Yossi and Jagger drama, the film also looks at the roles of female soldiers in the IDF through its secondary characters, and how all of the soldiers are affected but the burden of responsibility places on their young shoulders, as they prepare for a cross-border operation.
The film is a longer version of a short film on a similar theme, screened in New York at the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival 10 years ago. Fox, who is openly gay, is one of Israel’s most popular writers and directors for film and television, best known for his television series Florentine, which was also well-received on the festival circuit. Fox has said that he views himself as something of a cultural ambassador for his country.
“I want to do for Israeli culture what Ang Lee did to Taiwanese culture with films like The Wedding Banquet and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. He brought to America and all over the world a different culture in ways the audience can handle and appreciate.”
Yossi and Jagger was originally intended only to be screened on television, but its quality convinced the filmmakers to release it as a feature.
“But the heart of the movie is the relationship between the two lovers, and this is handled with refreshing matter-of-factness and humor,” wrote Hannah Brown in her review of the film in The Jerusalem Post, calling the movie “simply a very moving and involving film.”