Dir Eytan Fox. Israel. 64mins.
Just a sketch, but highly perceptive and remarkably sensitive one at that, this compact gay love story, set in a remote Israeli military outpost on the Lebanese border, has already gone down a storm at home. Produced for cable television, shot in DV and first unveiled at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2002, the enthusiastic reception there resulted in a 35mm blowup print enjoying a limited theatrical release last year, where it proved a crossover hit beyond its assumed gay audience, scoring 30,000 admissions off one screen. It was picked up before its Panorama screening in Berlin by Fortissimo, with Strand acquiring it for American distribution. All in all, a pretty clear indication that despite running for barely more than an hour, Eytan Fox's effort can easily make its mark not only in TV markets but also on theatrical circuits beyond the festival runs (its next stop is the Gay And Lesbian Festival in Torino, Italy).
Embroidered on a true story, Fox's feature concentrates on two young officers who are deeply in love, but who each have a different perception of their relationship. Yossi (Knoller), the company commander, is an introvert bent on an army career, prefers discretion and insists on maintaining his macho countenance. Meanwhile, Jagger (Yehuda Levy), his second in command, the more expansive of the two, is soon to complete his military service and cannot wait to come out of the closet.
Surrounding them are a group of young soldiers, all of them in their late teens or early 20s, who have been away from home for too long and endured a humdrum tour of duty that is punctuated only by nightly ambushes and sudden violence.
Living under constant tension, the company react in different ways to the conditions in which they find themselves, cooped up claustrophobically in a narrow underground fortification on a snow-covered mountain, and with no room for privacy. A visit from a superior officer accompanied by two young girls in uniform, each with her own agenda for the visit, proves the trigger for the final, inevitable tragedy.
Fox makes the most of the modest TV budget put at his disposal, displaying once again his uncanny talent to elicit natural, spontaneous, controlled and authentic performances from a mostly anonymous cast. Knoller, in particular, is subdued and nicely understated, while Yehuda Levy, a popular TV star in Israel, is far more expansive. Blending the rough aspects of army life with tenderness that does not always dare to come out in the open, Berenheimer and Fox offer a number of discerning insights on Israeli society, reflected not only in the contacts between the two lovers but also in the conduct of the other soldiers.
Using mostly a handheld camera that roves through the confined space inside the isolated post, Fox deftly captures glimpses of emotional patterns and typical Israeli reactions, from the loutish high-ranking officer openly enjoying the sexual favours of his secretary to the grief of mourning parents. Such details obviously rang more than one bell with the public in Israel - and are likely to travel beyond its borders.
Prod co/Israeli dist: Lama Productions
Int'l sales: Fortissimo Film Sales
Prod: Amir Harel, Gal Uchovsky
Scr: Avner Berenheimer
Cinematography: Yaron Scharf
Ed: Yossef Grundfield
Prod des: Amir Dov Pick
Music: Ivri Lider
Main cast: Ohad Knoller, Yehuda Levy, Assi Cohen, Aya Koren, Hani Furstenberg, Sharon Reginiano, Yuval Semo, Yaniv Moyal, Hanan Savion, Erez Kahana, Omri Givon.