More anecdote than full-scale drama, “Yossi & Jagger” offers a kind of cinematic short story about two Israeli soldiers–group leader Yossi (Ohad Knoller) and handsome, lighthearted private Jagger (Yehuda Levi)–who keep their mutual affection secret during service at a defensive garrison on the Lebanese border. The tale unfolds over a single wintry day, when the duo’s frolic in the snow is interrupted by a visit from the company commander (Sharon Reginiano), who orders the tired group to set up an ambush against suspected terrorist infiltrators that night. As the men prepare for the mission–after an amusingly elaborate meal prepared by dedicated company cook Yaniv (Erez Kahana)–it becomes clear that Jagger wants the reluctant Yossi to come out of the closet; meanwhile Yaeli (Aia Steinovits-Koren), a female soldier accompanying the company commander, comes on to Jagger, although Ophir (Assi Cohen), another member of the garrison, has eyes for her. (There’s an intriguingly multi-leveled moment when Ophir observes Jagger rejecting Yaeli’s advances but mistakes it as a instance of intimacy.) The tension has thus reached a high level by the time the men undertake their dangerous ambush. And there’s a poignant epilogue the following day.
Shot on video and a mere 67 minutes long, “Yossi & Jagger” is obviously a modest picture, but it’s distinguished by sharp writing and some nicely understated acting. Avner Bernheimer’s script avoids the usual melodramatic excesses in sketching a gay affair within a closed, hostile male environment, and most of the performers–Reginiano and Cohen are unfortunate exceptions–keep things agreeably low-key. Knoller is particularly good as the conflicted Yossi, who doesn’t know quite how to react when Yaeli approaches him about Jagger’s possible interest in her, and Levi, though lacking the dimensions of his lover, is suitably high-spirited. Director Eytan Fox does a good job in conveying the atmosphere of the isolated outpost and the close, confining makeup of the quarters, especially as they threaten Yossi and Jagger’s efforts to keep their relationship private; he’s also adept at staging the moments of mordant humor without exaggeration.
“Yossi & Jagger” thus walks the fine line between sensationalism and bathos with admirable skill. It’s a minor but affecting study of men caught between their personal desires and societal expectations.