Back to Yossi
A visit to the set of Eytan Fox's sequel to his 2002 hit 'Yossi and Jagger,' where the cast and crew are like family, and the film finds its star older, wiser and more open about his sexuality.
"Ohad is walking too fast. Again. Concentrate, Ohad, tense your body," director Eytan Fox calls from his chair in front of the monitor. He waves his hand. "Action."
Actor Ohad Knoller, dressed like a doctor, with a stethoscope around his neck, has a worried look on his face - as called for in the scene. He begins walking alongside the nurses' station. Cinematographer Guy Raz holds the camera on his shoulder and walks in front of the actor, struggling to keep up. Cut. "You walked too fast again," Fox tells Knoller, "and you also lost some of the inner movement. Again. Relax your forehead a little, Ohad. Action!"
The new and luxurious heart center at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital is still deserted. Workers complete the finishing touches, cleaning crews calmly polish the corridors; only on the third floor is the activity at its height, where the crew of the tentatively titled "Yossi's Story" films take after take, scene after scene. Knoller leaves one of the rooms and enters the hallway, along with actress Orly Zilbershatz.
"Thank you doctor," she says to him, putting on her coat while walking. "You're welcome," he replies. He still looks worried. "See you next year," she says, as she walks away.
Actor Lior Ashkenazi, also dressed as a doctor, looks at the two in surprise. "Is that her? What's the matter with you?" he asks Knoller in a whisper. "Listen, you owe me for that catheterization with Cohen - he's so phlegmatic it takes him two hours to find the artery," Ashkenazi says, but Knoller suddenly rushes after the woman.
Ten years after collaborating on "Yossi and Jagger," Knoller and Fox once again find themselves on opposite sides of the camera, creating a sequel to that successful film. Yossi, the tough company commander who had an intense affair with a male officer serving under him in a snowy outpost in South Lebanon, is now an admired and dedicated doctor. He devotes all his energy to his work, to avoid confronting his loneliness and the demons from his past.
He still hasn't gotten over the death of his lover (played by Yehuda Levi ) at the end of the previous film, and when Jagger's mother (Zilbershatz ) shows up at the hospital, his world is shaken.
"Yossi and Jagger," screened in 2002, received the Ophir Prize for best drama and best actor (Levi ). The film was distributed in 15 countries, with Knoller named best actor at the Tribeca Film Festival. Last Thursday, Fox said he and producer Amir Harel came up with the idea to make a sequel a few months ago.
"We wanted to work together again... We felt like making another film, something small and immediate," says Fox. "Of course it means working with smaller budgets, without public funding, with a small crew. But I've already worked with all the actors in this film in the past, and they're like family."
In cinematic terms, this is really a lightning production. Fox started to formulate the idea only about six months ago, recruited Itay Segal (the TV critic for Yedioth Ahronoth ) to write the script, and cast Knoller and Zilbershatz (who worked with Fox in "Song of the Siren" ) in the main roles. Other major roles went to Ashkenazi (who starred in "Walking on Water" ) and Oz Zehavi, who plays Yossi's new lover.
Harel is producing the film along with Moshe Edri and United King Films, on a $500,000 budget and support from the Yes cable company and the Reshet TV franchise. But the desire to create a small, quick film was not Fox's only motive.
"I suddenly understood that the issues that came up in 'Yossi and Jagger' are very important to me, that I wanted to address them again," Fox says. "Although in the film Yossi is 35, not 45 like me, the questions that preoccupy him are my questions as well: on maturing, finding meaning in life, and how to create that meaning. It's important to share such issues, like how important it is to accept yourself - and I don't necessarily mean in terms of sexuality. In this film, Yossi is still examining how completely he accepts himself as a gay man... but more than that, he's dealing with trauma. He lost Jagger and is stuck in that place.
'Here come the tears'
In a short break in filming, Knoller, whose career has flourished thanks to "Yossi and Jagger," claims there is no real connection between the character he played in the first film and the one he plays in "Yossi's Story."
"On the one hand, the Yossi in this film is more out of the closet. But he's also far less sure of himself," he says. "In the first film, he conveyed far more confidence, he was a kind of leader because of his job as an IDF commander, and here he's one of a team of doctors - and not the senior one. In the first film he still didn't know whether he was really gay ... but in this film it's clear that he is, and that's how he lives his life. The big question is what kind of life it's going to be."
Zilbershatz, who didn't appear in the previous film, is happy and amused on set, but when discussing her character, she becomes melancholy.
"When you lose a child, and suddenly you discover that there are all kinds of things that you didn't know about him, that you didn't have time to get to know, that intensifies the sense of loss," she says. "The thought that your child was all alone when he experienced something as difficult as coming out of the closet - and 10 years ago, when the world was even less tolerant - is tough."
Segal, the screenwriter, who is sitting next to her, looks at her and says, "Here come the tears. She starts crying as soon as she talks about it."
Knoller admits that he's scared by the fact that this is a a sequel to a successful film. "The first film was excellent, and so to go and make another film now means telling a story you don't really have to tell. So on the surface, why get into that? It's scary."
Fox also says many people warned him against creating a sequel. "But when I traveled all over the world with the actors, when we screened it abroad, people always asked what would happen to Yossi. People said that he ends the film in a bad place."
"In this film, Yossi is supposed to emerge from where he got stuck. At the same time, I feel it's an independent film that stands on its own, and follows a character who now lives in a different Israel," Fox explains. "'Yossi and Jagger' addressed the withdrawal from Lebanon, confronting the trauma of the first Lebanon war, and now I'd like to examine the situation 10 years on. Has Israel changed? Is it a more liberal, progressive, advanced place? And if so, why is Yossi unable to change?
"There's a dissonance here between a society that has changed and the character of Yossi, who is stuck in 2000, when Israeli society was more macho, less accepting. In the sequel, Oz Zehavi represents the new Israeli gay man, who can be both gay and an IDF officer, and doesn't feel that these two things are conflicting. On the contrary: He's proud of who he is."