Remember that scene at the end of “The Graduate” when Elaine has skipped out on her wedding and fled with Benjamin Braddock on a city bus? The look on their faces — Katharine Ross in her white veil, Dustin Hoffman sweaty and with his hair mussed — said it all: “What in the heck do we do next?”
It’s the same look that ends “Yossi,” Israeli director Eytan Fox’s sequel, 10 years later, to his breakthrough hit “Yossi and Jagger.” But let’s start from the beginning. When “Yossi” opens, the eponymous character, Yossi Guttman (reprised by Ohad Knoller), is asleep in the call room after a long night at the hospital. He’s a middling cardiologist who has never gotten over the loss of his lover and IDF commander Jagger, who in the original film died in his arms after a skirmish in Lebanon. Yossi is lonely, overweight and exhausted. He spends his evenings eating oily takeout, watching porn and looking for one-nighters on online dating sites. His few friends — all of them co-workers — can surmise he’s gay, but he closes himself off so much that nobody knows for sure. Even the nurse who keeps trying to get him to go out on a date can’t get a straight answer about his sexuality. No two ways about it: He’s stuck.
But then he gets a visitor. Jagger’s mother comes in for an exam. Not knowing her connection to the still-mourning Yossi, she tells him about Lior — Jagger’s given name — and eventually he comes clean to Jagger’s parents about their relationship. It’s not an understatement to say that finding out about their son’s love life a decade after his death came as a shock.
But the moment finally Yossi decides to do something about his life. On a forced vacation to the Sinai, he picks up a quartet of soldiers on their way to Eilat for a weekend of R&R. One of them, it turns out, is gay. What ensues we’ve seen before. A courtship. A coupling. An awakening. Yes, it’s derivative, and the lights-on/lights-off scene — you know the one where one lover is embarrassed to be seen in the light while the other wants to see — is too rom-com in a drama that elicits few laughs.
But Fox seems to know that unlike “Yossi and Jagger,” which at the time was a shocking revelation but set the stage for Israeli gay film over this past decade, he’s not breaking new ground with the sequel. Doron Eran’s “Melting Away,” the 2011 film that broke the transgender barrier in Israel, can claim that mantle today. But just because “Yossi” doesn’t have high profile of the original doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Though it is, admittedly, kind of a downer, the acting and direction are still well done. One scene between Yossi and Tom, the young soldier, is a case in point and an allegory for Israel today and the Israel of a decade ago. Where the older, quieter Yossi still hasn’t stopped hiding his sexuality, the younger, more boisterous Tom isn’t afraid of who he is: He flaunts it, his buddies know all about it, and it’s just one of those things they all accept.
So when Yossi has his Benjamin Braddock moment, we can only hope that if we visit him again in 10 years he has aged much more gracefully than he has in the past 10. Without it, the rest of the film would have felt like a waste.