Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life, 2018.
Directed by Tomer Heymann.
A filmmaker captures the highs and lows of a world-renowned gay porn star.
Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life, the latest documentary feature from Israeli filmmaker Tomer Heymann, starts and ends with its titular subject on a stage. Illuminated by sharp, colourful lighting, his every move is watched by a packed crowd of hundreds, maybe even thousands. But the public profile of Agassi, an internationally-acclaimed star in the world of gay porn, only tells half the story.
Filmed over eight years, Heymann’s fly-on-the-wall approach chronicles Agassi’s swift, awards-laden ascent to the top of the industry, from his native Tel Aviv to Berlin where he also finds work as an escort. But his rise is bittersweet: behind the door of his very ordinary apartment in the German capital, behind the fame, fortune and flamboyance, lies a compelling story about a man battling depression, drug addiction and past identity struggles.
It’s here where Heymann’s lens lingers longest, capturing with striking honesty the spiralling effects of Agassi’s eccentric, demanding lifestyle. At first, the porn industry offers liberation from the pain of an adolescent life marred by ridicule and bullying: a platform upon which he can finally find a true sense of himself. As his story unravels, however, and painful personal details come to light — an emotionally distant brother; an estranged father — it becomes a veil to paper over the cracks of a troubled, lonely existence.
This is far from a cutting indictment of Agassi’s occupation, however (though the film is never blind to the very real risk of exploitation it brings). It is, rather, crafted as an intricate, intriguing character study about a man on the verge of self-destruction. One scene late on, shot with distressing rawness, shows Agassi experiencing a particularly unpleasant comedown. As his body writhes on the floor and his wails echo about the room, it is a sobering reminder of how appearances can so often be deceiving.
In the end, Heymann’s film remains hopeful. Beyond the warm intimacy that emanates from Agassi’s regular Skype calls and shopping trips with his adoring mother — a love that transcends stigma and sexuality — there’s a strong feeling that the film itself carries an important catharsis for its subject. “It seems I am all the things I say I’m not” a teary-eyed Agassi finally admits. And, in that sense, the film’s title lives up to its promise. Jonathan Agassi might have just saved his own life.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
George Nash is a freelance film journalist. Follow him on Twitter via @_Whatsthemotive for movie musings, puns and cereal chatter.