Best Actor: Ohad Knoller — ‘Yossi’

The 2012 awards season may not be over yet, but if like me, you’re already fed up with all the Argo nonsense, it’s a perfect time to take a look at the movies of 2013. I originally saw Yossi last year but was pleased to realize that it hadn’t been released in the United States, therefore making it eligible for awards consideration this year. The movie was released a few weeks ago in NYC and is currently playing in a couple of arthouses. If you haven’t seen it, run to the theater. Movies released early during the year are usually forgotten by the time all the Oscar juggernauts arrive…

Yossi is the unexpected sequel to 2002’s miniature masterpiece Yossi & Jagger, a movie which back then tapped into something that seemed scandalous (gay men in the Israeli army!) but proved to be much more sensitive and subdued that anyone expected. Director Eytan Fox went on to direct other movies in the years since, all of which dealt with sex and young people, but none of them were able to capture the rich humanity of his film about gay soldiers.

Yossi & Jagger wasn’t a box office hit and might be somewhat of a cult movie, but that shouldn’t discourage audiences from watching its sequel. The movie catches up with the title character a decade after the first movie and we see the effect of Jagger’s death in his life and how he has to deal with his sexuality. But this shouldn’t be a movie review (although again, go watch it while you can!) instead this piece is all about how brilliant Ohad Knoller is in the part.

Ten years ago, his sad puppy eyes and buff body gave him a strange attractiveness, his angry passion and sexual cravings reminiscent of a young Brando. Ten years later we see him as a man coming to terms with the sad loneliness of gay life. He has left the army and is trying to keep his personal life a secret from his colleagues, we see him as a doctor who is too old and not attractive enough to fit in with the Grindr culture. He uses old pictures on dating sites and awkwardly smiles at men he finds cute.

What’s remarkable about Knoller’s performance is how easily he becomes Yossi. Even if the actor has done many other movies (he had parts in the Oscar nominated Munich and Beaufort) in the ten years since he first introduced this character, a single look at him in this sequel is enough for us to see the pain he holds inside, the longing and terror that fills his soul. The movie is directed with a caring hand by Fox who gives Yossi a second chance at happiness (in the form of a beautiful young man who might have actual feelings for the doctor), but the movie belongs to Knoller’s sensitive performance, you mostly want to reach out to the screen and give him a hug even if you know that Yossi would probably refuse it.