Film: The Beautiful Room Is Empty

He opens the bedroom door, and all the memories of their time together come rushing back like a tidal wave. Entering the room of his Israeli army lover is like stepping into a time warp for Dr. Yossi Hoffman, but this frozen-in-time shrine Lior Amichai’s parents have preserved for their late son probably says just as much about our leading man.

Yossi, director Eytan Fox’s sequel to his 2002 LGBT film festival staple Yossi & Jagger, picks up a decade after the events in the first film. Fox’s protagonist (Ohad Knoller, reprising his role) dove into his studies after leaving active duty, and is now a cardiologist at a Tel Aviv hospital. His life consists of endless work shifts, surfing porn sites at home, eating noodles for dinner, and scoring the very rare online hookup. It appears Lior’s death has left the good doctor in a state of suspended animation, as if he’d pressed the pause button on his life.

Physically, Dr. Hoffman has let himself go. Now in his mid-thirties, the formerly slim soldier has turned into a bear. That doesn’t stop Nina (Ola Schur Selektar), a nurse who seems to be just as lonely as he is, from feeling attracted to him, even though she refuses to broach the subject. Yossi’s colleague Moti (Walk on Water‘s Lior Ashkenazi), a recently divorced cokehead, wonders when he’ll have the opportunity to corrupt this closeted workaholic and take him out for a wild night of drunken abandon.

But then, an unforeseen visit knocks Yossi out of his stupor. One day he looks up from his patient files and sees Varda Amichai (Orly Silbersatz Banai), Lior’s mother, in the hospital hallway. Varda senses she’s met the pudgy physician before, but she doesn’t put two and two together, not even when Yossi offers to drive her home.

Yossi, neatly divided in two parts, reaches the halfway point when Fox’s lead character musters up the courage to visit his boyfriend’s parents and has his Ennis Del Mar moment. Its depiction of gay politics feels a little behind the curve, but that’s only fitting when you’re portraying someone who closed himself off just when things were really starting to change for LGBT people in Israel. (According to Fox, the army now shows Yossi & Jagger to soldiers during basic training.)

The film’s second half shows Yossi, finally taking a long-overdue vacation, giving a ride to four young soldiers who’ve just missed their bus. At once he’s struck by how much of a non-issue one of the young men’s open homosexuality is to the rest of the cadets. That would be Tom (Israeli heartthrob Oz Zehavi), handsome, fit, and an incorrigible flirt. He’s fascinated with this antiquated, heavy-set Good Samaritan who’s given him and his buddies a lift to their resort. It’s no accident that Fox, working from a keenly observed screenplay by Itay Segal, shows Yossi reading “Death in Venice” as he lounges by the pool.

Will Yossi find it in him to open up to another man again? And will Tom’s brash advances be exactly what he needs? Yossi answers these questions, sort of, but a very abrupt ending, which on reflection is actually more ambiguous than it looks, leaves the movie feeling more like an unfinished character study. You get the sense Fox and Segal were one scene away from coming up with a satisfying conclusion, but they don’t quite get there. But even though the filmmakers slam on the brakes during the home stretch, it doesn’t take anything away from Knoller’s richly layered performance, which is reason enough to see this intimate, deeply moving tale of emotional rebirth.

Yossi recalls movies like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset in the way it revisits a beloved character and satiates fans’ whatever-happened-to-so-and-so hunger for answers. If only one could say the same thing about another, far better known actor taking the reins of an iconic action hero once more. A Good Day to Die Hard marks the fifth installment in the popular, long-running franchise, and it’s time to put a stop to it.

This time around, John McClane (Bruce Willis, coasting on star quality) travels to Moscow to attend his son’s trial. Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) faces murder charges in a case that pits two older men who used to work together in the eighties: prison convict Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) and slimy politician Viktor Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov). Screenwriter Skip Woods gets this setup over and done with quickly so director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) can cut to the chase faster.

The Irish filmmaker delivers a messy, eye-popping vehicle pileup – his idea of a car chase – and for a short while, the fifth Die Hard chugs along as a live-action cartoon, a kinetic anti-Skyfall. But the spectacular car stunts have to finish at some point, and when they do we’re stuck with banal father-and-son dysfunctional dialogue that would get an “F” in Screenwriting 101. The ensuing double and triple- crosses come across more as brainstorm ideas Woods came up with on the fly than organic plot developments that ground the over-the-top proceedings in something resembling the real world. But A Good Day to Die Hard has zero intentions of following good sense or the laws of gravity, and it goes slack and nonsensical when it ought to be picking up steam.

Moore’s Russia is disappointingly anachronistic, and not in an enjoyably retro way. To his credit, he’s also an equal-opportunity sensualist. Our first glimpse of Courtney, for instance, is a shot of the Spartacus actor’s buttocks as he enters a nightclub through the kitchen wearing tight white jeans, not exactly a character introduction you see in a brawny, man’s man studio action movie very often. But Willis and Courtney lack the chemistry the Australian actor had with his Spartacus BFF, the late Andy Whitfield, so when A Good Day to Die Hard goes belly up, we couldn’t give less of a damn. It’s a colossal misfire, albeit one with decent eye candy.

A Good Day to Die Hard begins shattering moviegoers’ eardrums in wide release this Friday. That same day, Yossi begins a limited South Florida run at the Coral Gables Art Cinema (gablescinema.com) and the Living Room Theater in Boca Raton (fau.livingroomtheaters.com). You don’t need to see to see the first film to enjoy the new one, but the Coral Gables Art Cinema will be showing Yossi & Jagger Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m. if you’d like to catch up.

About Ruben Rosario

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