Dir. Eytan Fox
(2002, R, 64 min)

Yossi & Jagger could be John McCain’s worst nightmare. There’s an image in my head of him presenting the film to Congress as evidence of why gays shouldn’t be allowed to serve openly in the military: “You see! Gays in the military will abandon their duties to have improbable romances with each other, drop their weapons, and have sex right on the battlefield!” Alas, the real problem with the film is that it’s not very good. It’s brief at 64 minutes and lacks detail and nuance. It’s an overwrought soap opera, slight despite the extravagance of its emotions.

It tells the story of a secret romance in the Israeli army. Yossi (Ohad Knoller) is the squad leader. His second in command is Lior (Yehuda Levi), nicknamed “Jagger” because of his rock-star good looks and charisma. They’re stationed on the Israel-Lebanon border, and between missions they look for moments to be together away from prying eyes; in an early scene, under the pretense of a scouting mission, they wander off, drop their guns, and have sex.

Then a colonel arrives to announce that the squad will undertake another dangerous ambush. Against whom, specifically? We don’t know. For what purpose? We don’t know. The details of battle and strategy are not addressed by Avner Bernheimer’s screenplay. War is more a plot device than a reality, springing up in order to complicate the romance. Two female soldiers are introduced as well (Hani Furstenberg and Aya Steinovitz), but all they ever talk about is their love lives. One of them is sweet on Jagger, and another soldier is sweet on her, which provides a minor love triangle that serves mostly as filler in a film that, short as it is, shouldn’t need any filler.

The story develops exactly as we expect it to, beat for beat, without once straying from its course. Even the colonel’s all-important ambush exists only to advance the plot in a very specific and predictable direction. In its extreme earnestness, the film becomes quite silly, due in part to mean production values – which have a rudimentary, do-it-yourself quality, and suggest that maybe there was no room in the budget for enemy combatants – but ultimately it’s not the quality of sets, camerawork, or effects that holds the film back. It’s the writing and directing, which settle for emotional superficiality in their account of forbidden romance. Yossi & Jagger was released three years before Brokeback Mountain, which is alike in theme and story, and a direct comparison between the two further highlights what the earlier film lacks.

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