There’s a lot to unpack in the Israeli queer film 15 Years. While this isn’t your usual romantic queer offering, 15 Years sure does an impressive job of showing what long-running relationships go through when there’s talk about wanting to change things up.
I was provided a free screener of 15 Years for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
As the title states, our two leads Yoav (Oded Leopold) and Dan (Udi Persi) have been together for 15 years. While they seem to be happy, it’s clear that Dan wants to take the next step and start a family. Everyone in the couple’s social circle already has kids or are going to have them soon. So, of course, Yoav, who doesn’t want children, begins to grow frustrated.
Yoav’s feelings continue to get worse when he sees his best friend from childhood (Alma, played by Ruto Asarsai) being too happy about her pregnancy.
The official synopsis reads:
Yoav, a successful architect, has everything he’s ever wanted: Dan, his lover of 15 years – a younger lawyer who adores him, and his best friend, Alma – a successful artist, who is like a mother and a sister to him. However, when Alma announces she’s pregnant, it ignites Dan’s desire to become a father himself. But Dan’s parental urges have the opposite effect on Yoav who is haunted by long buried demons. Yoav’s tight grasp on his life begins to come apart, leading him to self-destructive behavior that threatens to destroy his life with Dan, unravel his friendship with Alma, and cost him everything.
15 Years, from writer/director Yuval Hadadi, shares a narrative that follows Yoav beginning to distance himself from others. We get to learn that past experiences from when Yoav was a kid are playing a role in his resistance to having children of his own. He definitely not happy about Alma becoming a mother either.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot to unpack in 15 Years. One would think that Yoav doesn’t want to have kids and fall into how many heterosexual couples live their life because of his experience of growing up as a gay man in Israel. But, in contrast, Yoav’s queer friends (who are around the same age as him) are more than okay with getting married and having children. So, in a sense, it boils down to Yoav’s childhood trauma.
Other than that, while Dan and Yoav seem to be a happy couple (they are also in an open relationship), there’s a lack of communication between the two. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think Yoav isn’t happy with the open relationship situation. I say this because during an argument between the couple Yoav said Dan’s too busy finding his next hookup to be able to care for a baby.
There were numerous instances in this film where I wanted the two leads to just sit down and talk. Dan did try a lot to begin a conversation with Yoav. But Yoav’s too emotionally closed – again, due to his strained relationship with his father. Yoav just can’t think of himself as a supportive father even though those who love him say otherwise. Yoav also kept a health issue secret from Dan.
One of the things I enjoyed about 15 Years is how it presented both sides. I nodded when Yoav said Dan has changed and how he wasn’t being fair to Yoav. It was shared that during the beginning of their relationship, Dan agreed to not wanting kids. But Dan changed with time and that put a lot of pressure on Yoav.
I mean, what do you do when the person you have been with for years shifts their stance on whether or not you, as a couple, should have kids? Should you come to some kind of compromise or is it better to part ways over such a serious matter?
This film doesn’t really give any absolute answers to certain questions. It’s not trying to be preachy. The narrative is about how sometimes things just change in a relationship and there’s nothing you can really do about it.
This movie also tackles the subject of certain societal expectations from queer people. While numerous members of the LGBTQ+ community fought to gain the right to marry who they love, some queer individuals still think that marriage, having kids, etc. is a heteronormative concept. It’s as if, in a sense, society is pressuring queer individuals to assimilate and be as close as possible to certain heteronormative ideals to be respected.
It also, in my opinion, talks about the importance of seeking help through therapy. Childhood trauma can continue living with a person for the rest of their lives without them even realizing that it’s there. And sometimes no amount of outside love can help a person if they aren’t able to love and respect themselves. While it might be tough, for certain people, it’s vital for them to forgive those who have hurt them in the past if they wish to move on and live a healthier life.
As for the cast, the lead actors did an amazing job in their roles. Leopold’s Yoav (Leopold has been in a number of queer content) is very reserved even though he loves Dan. I smiled at the scene where, after an argument, Yoav sent an apple to Dan’s place of work. It was a cute moment. Yoav also gifted Alma a baby crib after saying some hurtful stuff to me.
Persi’s Dan is very vulnerable and I think many are going to be sympathetic to the way his character feels his relationship with Yoav is reaching an expiration date.
Asarsai’s Alma plays her part quite well as she tries to offer support to Yoav and Dan. But there’s a limit to what she can do when the other person refuses to change or adjust.
All in all, Hadadi has created an intimate and intense look at a relationship featuring two characters that see no choice but to drift away because they want different things in life.
15 Years had a successful run in the festival circuit and you will see why once you watch it.
From Breaking Glass Pictures, it will be available on DVD and VOD today.
I recommend you watch it. Again, while it’s not a romantic comedy, it features a queer story that will make you think.
Trigger Warning: This movie depicts a suicide attempt.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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