Published on June 25th, 2014 | by Martin Aston0
In 2012, I interviewed Israeli film director Eytan Fox about his latest film Yossi, and his often controversial storylines, which mostly cross-pollinate gay society and army life: the nature of liberation in a country perpetually at war. For Attitude magazine.
Gay travel books revel in Israel’s sun-stoked delights. But the good-life façade has disguised the country’s creative wealth, and in the case of filmmaker Eytan Fox, two decades of provocative, sensual, heartbreaking and life-affirming films, with overt queer storylines.
Take his latest, Yossi, the sequel to 2002’s Yossi & Jagger. Fox’s plots often involve Israel’s compulsory military service and the army’s legacy once soldiers return to their civvies. Yossi, a closeted man in his thirties, is struggling to bury the memory of his secret army lover (namely Jagger) before he meets a younger, proudly out soldier, who rings in the changes for both Yossi and the army’s view of homosexuality. The real strength of Fox’s films, however, is the way he tackles relationships with the same realism that marked out the stunning British film Weekend.
“That’s a fair comparison,” Fox reckons. “Both films follow the same process of starting a relationship, and using it to understand where, and who, you are in life.”
Both films (and Fox’s debut feature, After) also came from his own experiences: “This was the war in Lebanon, in 1982, when the word ‘gay’ didn’t exist here! My secret lover was this good looking commander. He was a tough womaniser too. He’d haze me in front of the others, to show the opposite of love. Years later, we met by accident and he said ‘you’ve become famous’, but to me [makes groaning noise], he was still my commander-lover!”
One of Fox’s best films, 2006’s Ha Buah (in English, The Bubble), has lovers from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which had erupted again as we were arranging the interview. But Fox is not only a chronicler of war. 2010’s TV series Mary Lou (cut into a film for gay film festivals) was a coming-out musical using the Abba-style ‘70s pop that Fox grew up on, while his next film is loosely based on Eurovision. Fox’s efforts to confront Israeli society with the reality of LGBT issues is helped by his actors; Ohad Knoller and Oz Zehavi, who respectively play Yossi and his new lover Tom, are both dashing (and straight) matinee idols in Israel. “Oz is currently Israel’s biggest heartthrob,” Fox laughs. “He plays this chauvinist pig in a TV series [Asfur] here, and people thought I when I crazy to offer him the part. But he and Ohad had chemistry between them.”
Right-wingers have claimed Fox’s films shouldn’t receive funding, “because I’m a left wing radical. Well, I do make political statements. In Mary Lou, a soldier asks a drag queen, ‘why do you wear a costume?’ And the drag queen replies, ‘why do you?’ meaning his uniform. But in Israel, your uniform is like your skin. There are many contradictions in Israeli society, and each of my films is like therapy. I tick off one issue and go on to the next one!”