Yossi and Jagger: potentially good film needs bulking up in plot, theme and characters

Eytan Fox, “Yossi and Jagger” (2002)

This is a short feature film – less than 70 minutes long – of two soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces who happen to be secret lovers. Yossi (Ohad Knoller), one of the two, leads a small unit of soldiers patrolling a remote part of the Israeli-Lebanon border. His lover Lior (Yehuda Levi), nicknamed Jagger for his rock-star good looks, is his second-in-command. The unit has just experienced heavy fighting and needs some downtime. Next thing you know, Sergeant Yoel (Sharon Regniano) suddenly turns up at the outpost with two girl soldiers, Goldie and Yaeli (who has her sights set on Jagger), and tells Yossi the unit must prepare to ambush the enemy at night. Yossi protests but the sergeant’s order is an order. After that, the sergeant speeds off in his van with the girls. The unit prepares for the ambush which it never carries out so Jagger calls it off. While he goes around the camp calling it off, an explosion occurs and Jagger is caught right in the middle of it.

Not much is said openly in the film about the issue of gays serving in the military but with a topic like this it’s what remains unspoken or is demonstrated that tells viewers more than what is actually said. The fact that Yossi and Jagger never express their love openly in the barracks or in front of the other soldiers, and can only show their feelings for each other in the brief few moments they can arrange to be together, says much more about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude in the IDF towards unconventional love and other relationships among its conscripts than any amount of lecturing, pontificating or dialogue could. The relationship has its difficulties, as might be expected when it must be kept under wraps: when Yossi sees Jagger touching Yaeli’s face (he’s actually helping her put a lens into her eye), he feels jealous but can say nothing openly and never gets to ask Jagger what’s going on between him and Yaeli (Aya Koren). It’s only when tragedy strikes that Yossi is finally able to say aloud to Jagger that he loves him despite there being a soldier right beside them both.

There are other potential subject areas within the film that could have become major themes had the film been longer and the plot more developed. The subplot around the unit’s cook Yaniv (Erez Kahana) could have been expanded for comic effect and tension relief. His is ultimately a tragic story like Yossi and Jagger’s but the film doesn’t elaborate what happens to him in the end. Another subplot revolving around Yaeli and a soldier Ofir (Assi Cohen) who secretly desires her and who knows Jagger isn’t interested in her exists but isn’t explored. The actions of Sergeant Yoel seem irregular and are never explained, and in themselves might say something about the culture and hierarchy in the IDF, whether it is as authoritarian, capricious and ultimately uncaring about the grunts as the film suggests. The sergeant’s behaviour towards Goldie (Hani Furstenberg) definitely isn’t right and might suggest a culture of corruption and promiscuity in an organisation that prides itself on being the “most moral army in the world”. Then there are other themes such as the “War Is Hell” one, done to death already in other war films, and issues about how young soldiers manage their lives and relationships from day to day in extreme situations without going berserk or having long-term psychological problems.

Filming was done using hand-held cameras which gives “Yossi and Jagger” an immediate, news-article feel. Much of the acting would have been improvised and a rabbit pops up early during the movie which might have given director Eytan Fox an idea about using a rabbit motif, with all that rabbits represent symbolically, later on. There are many close-ups used and scenes involving Yossi and Jagger together definitely treat them as lovers with head-and-shoulder / three-quarter view shots. The background scenery of snow, mountains and clear skies can be beautiful, especially at sunset and during the full-moon night when filming took place. The acting ranges from so-so minimal to quite good where Yossi and Jagger are concerned, especially in their scenes together, and in scenes where Yossi is more or less on his own though he may be surrounded by others. The film’s climax at a funeral in which Yossi is perusing a photo album and becomes emotional is very moving.

The film is very skimpy in its plot, theme and characterisations as well as in length and the main subject matter about gay people in the military and the obstacles such soldiers must confront to be able to express themselves and their love freely merits a deeper exploration and treatment. A more thoughtful film with a bigger budget and more detailed script could include other related issues about army life and the way modern armies treat their soldiers and other staff, and the culture within armies that may benefit or harm soldiers psychologically and physically.

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