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Experiencing an emotional rebirth in ‘Yossi’

‘YOSSI’ ★★★

Yossi Ohad Knoller

Moti Lior Ashkenazi

Varda Orly Silbersatz

Tom Oz Zehavi

Strand Releasing presents a film directed by Eytan Fox. Written by Itay Segal. In Hebrew, with English subtitles. Running time: 84 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opening Friday at Landmark Century.

The title character of Eytan Fox’s “Yossi” hasn’t fared well in the 10 years since he made his introduction in “Yossi and Jagger” (2002), about the doomed romance between two Israeli soldiers. Having lost his lover in the battlefield at the end of the previous film, Yossi (Ohad Knoller) has settled into a routine of takeout food and pornography while tirelessly working as a cardiologist in Tel Aviv. This sensitively wrought sequel depicts his emotional rebirth.

Yossi’s clearly unlucky in love, as demonstrated by awkward encounters with a female nurse who doubts his sexuality and a male colleague who attempts to enlist him in a threesome with a woman. Then, after a chance encounter with his late lover’s mother that prompts him to confess his past relationship with her son, he impulsively decides to travel to a resort city for some much needed R&R.

Along the way, he encounters a quartet of Israeli soldiers who have missed their bus and take him up on his offer of a ride. As it happens, one of them, the handsome Tom (Oz Zehavi) is openly gay, and unlike his compatriots, he recognizes that Yossi is as well. His casual attempts at seduction, and Yossi’s gradual thawing of his resistance, form the heart of the film.

Although occasionally succumbing to cliches — Yossi spends his time alone at the pool reading Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice,” of all things — the film is nonetheless moving in its quiet depiction of its central character’s internal struggles. Yes, it borders on fantasia at times, with the much-younger would-be lover pursuing the reluctant Yossi with a doggedness that wouldn’t be out of place in the most formulaic romantic comedy. But the filmmaker, who has made a specialty out of chronicling gay themes in such films as “The Bubble” and “Walk on Water,” manages to invest the material with a quiet forcefulness.

His ace in the hole is Knoller, who expertly manages to make his character compelling even at his most withdrawn and sullen. The extra weight that the actor has packed on gives him an air of vulnerability that makes his character’s ultimate emergence from his seemingly impenetrable emotional shell all the more moving.

Hollywood Reporter

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