In writer-director Yair Hochner’s intriguing, multi-layered, remarkably well-acted Antarctica, which Regent Releasing is opening tomorrow, Nov. 14, at the Regent Showcase in Hollywood, several gay men and a couple of lesbians get enmeshed in a complex web of sexual/romantic entanglements set in the streets, clubs, and apartment houses of Tel Aviv.
There’s Omer (Tomer Ilan), a handsome, soft-spoken – and still single – librarian who’s about to turn thirty; his sister, Shirley (Lucy Dubinchik), who feels the need to get away from it all despite her love for club owner Michal (Liat Ekta), who also happens to be madly in love with the younger woman; the journalist Ronen (Guy Zo-Aretz), who has recently returned from London to Tel Aviv only to find lots of romance, sex, and poetess Matilda Rose (an appropriately quirky Rivka Neuman) who claims to have been abducted by aliens; Tzachy (Dvir Benedek), a bald-headed bear of a man who brags about his sexual magnetism thanks to a special chromosome (and who has a creepy curiosity about refrigerators); fey shop worker Miki (Yuval Raz), who falls for the journalist; Danny (Yiftach Mizrahi), a young dancer who falls for dance teacher Boaz (Ofer Regirer), who falls for nobody, as all he’s interested in are a series of hot nights of sex with as many different partners as possible.
Some will surely compare Antarctica to the films of Eytan Fox, but I think that is way off the mark. Just because both Hochner and Fox focus their films on gay characters that doesn’t mean their work is aesthetically or even thematically similar – that would be akin to saying that films about heterosexuals and their relationship problems all have the same approach.
In truth, Antarctica reminds me of Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret’s Jellyfish, which is also set in Tel Aviv and revolves around various interconnected characters – in addition to the presence of “magical” elements in the quite down-to-earth proceedings of both films. Inevitably, Antarctica also reminds me of La Ronde, as its characters dance about from relationship to relationship – even if not necessarily in a “linearly” circular fashion.
And there’s a bit of John Waters in Antarctica as well, what with Noam Huberman / Miss Laila Carry – the Israeli Divine (though Huberman/Carry is a much better performer) – doing a very funny bit as Omer and Shirley’s stereotypical (widowed) Jewish mother, wanting her children married – even if that means a boy for Omer and a girl for Shirley – and then coming up with a “love is everywhere” surprise that shocks everybody at the dinner table in one of the film’s final moments. And like Divine, Miss Laila also shows up as a guy; one who comes up with his own surprise at the end.
Now, what does all this have to do with the fast-melting continent on the South Pole? In the q&a below, Yair Hochner has kindly provided his own take on the matter – though ultimately that’ll be up to each audience member to decide. As for those outer-galaxy folks who make a big splash at the film’s grand finale … well, just remember that love raises its alien head at the strangest of times as well.
Antarctica opens at New York City’s Quad Cinema on November 28. (Release schedule.)
Official site and official site #2.
Images: Regent Releasing.
What was the inspiration for the quirky characters and “magical realist” plot elements found in Antarctica?
I guess you are talking about Matilda Rose. When I was a soldier I worked as a journalist in a local newspaper. My editor was a very sweet woman that believed that she was kidnapped by aliens. I used her stories in the movie. About Tzachy, the weird fat guy, he’s a serial killer. In the first drafts of the scripts there was a girl getting ready to go out for a blind date and never comes back. In the background of the story, news tell you about the police searching for her. This story didn’t fit into the final draft, but I like the dark humor and I believe that our life is full of
surprises and odd moments that give us more taste and meaning. So he’s there to remind our heroes that there are more crazy people than them out there.
And Matilda is there to remind us that there is a bigger presence in the world than our small life. What? I don’t know. But everyone needs to understand that he’s just a small part in this existence and if he or she wants to be happy he needs to fulfill himself.
In Antarctica, characters get connected – or, more often, misconnected – and disconnected only – sometimes – to reconnect again. Would you say it’s a matter of chance that two people – such as the librarian and the journalist – get to connect in life? (After all, they meet accidentally at the librarian’s workplace.) Or is their ultimate connection their own doing, their own decision-making? A combination of both?
I think that our life is full of connected, misconnected, disconnected, and reconnect situations. This is the most beautiful thing in our life. How it flows and takes us to very different places. Tel Aviv is a very small city. For example, yesterday I walked in the street with a friend from L.A. and we came across so many people that I know that he was in shock. In Tel Aviv many people are just hanging out in coffee shops or sitting on benches in the streets. I tried to bring this to the movie. It’s a very small city and everyone knows everyone, so the atmosphere is very friendly and cozy, but like in all large cities in the world when you live alone you could feel loneliness and sadness. So, there is more chance for random connections, although it is always important that you direct yourself to what you want. It was also a cinematic choice to add some elements of a “comedy of errors” that motivate the plot.
Antarctica offers a number of classy performances – Tomer Ilan, Liat Ekta, and Miss Laila Carry immediately come to mind. Those actors aren’t major international names and I must admit I’m unfamiliar with their previous work. So, I was wondering how/why they (and the other actors) were chosen to play their particular roles.
Miss Laila Carry/Noam Huberman is a gay icon in Tel Aviv and I really love him. He is an amazing person and I learned a lot from him. I’m happy that the audience loves his work in the movie.
Tomer Ilan was one of the actors in my first feature, Good Boys [official site]. He played a very sexy cop that pimps young rent boys. He is a very good friend of mine and I wanted him from the start. He’s not so famous in Israel; he preferred to finish his academic degree in biology. I just wanted to see him in a very different role from [that of] the violent cop. Omer, his character in Antarctica is totally the opposite.
Liat Ekta is an amazing actress; the first time I saw her was in a play called Blood Line, about a group of people that infect each other with HIV. She played a very sleazy prostitute, wearing a very short skirt and a bra. All her lines were cursing. She was so sexy I thought it’ll be very interesting to see her as a serious lesbian businesswoman.
I think when casting actors, one should not be predictable. They should try to do very different characters from what they are usually used to. In most cases, the result is excellent.
There’s much talk of (gay) “weddings” (at least in the English-language subtitles) in Antarctica. But gay marriages are illegal in Israel. Were the characters discussing “commitment ceremonies,” or was there some “hidden” meaning behind all that talk about weddings? Also, in the film we see gay couples kissing on the street without any worries. Is that a reality in Tel Aviv – or is it another manifestation of the mix of fantasy and reality found in Antarctica?
Gay marriage and civil marriage (not religious) even for straight people are illegal in Israel, but if you get married outside Israel they will change your status in your identity card but you won’t get any rights like straight [married] couples. I decided that my heroes will talk about weddings like a normal event that happens in our lives. I think that this can make even an Israeli that goes out from the movie think that it’s about time for a change.
As for showing love in public, Tel Aviv is a very open-minded city. As publicists in Israel love to say, “Tel Aviv is the gay center of the Middle East.” You can see in the center of the city gay and lesbian couples kissing, mainly in Rothschild avenue at night or out in the streets near LGBT parties and pubs. We don’t have one strong area like the gay village in Toronto/Montreal or Chelsea in New York, and we are not Berlin that you can see under the parliament building gay couples kiss or in the middle of the supermarket. It would be nice to have a gay-oriented area where we could feel really comfortable to do what the fuck we want to do. Until this happens, you can kiss in the middle of the street, but you never know what will be the response.
You helped to found Tel Aviv’s first Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Was Antarctica screened at the festival? If so, how was it received in the city where it is set?
I’ll never screen my films in a festival that I’m its director. I think it is not appropriate. The screenings of Antarctica in the Tel Aviv Cinematheque started in the middle of August. It played every day for three weeks and now it screens every Friday at midnight till the end of November. I’m trying to attend all the screenings to say hello to the audience and thank them for coming.
Antarctica is a very low-budget independent film and no one other than the Tel Aviv Cinematheque wanted to show it. It was received very well. People really enjoyed it and even clap hands at the end of the movie, so I’m happy. It’s totally, pure fun and this is the first time you could see a romantic Israeli gay comedy at the cinema in Israel.
Antarctica doesn’t shy away from sex scenes, though at times the camera stopped or panned away right when things were getting really steamy. Did you ever think of making the sex scenes more graphic, considering that sex is such a strong element in the story? If so, is there such a version out there?
There is a scene that shows Danny’s erection, but I don’t know if Regent cut it in the theatrical version. [Danny’s erection was left uncut in the screener I watched.] When I was in Outfest this past July, they told me that maybe they will do it to get an R rating and make the movie less graphic. So, the festival version was a little edgy for gay mainstream romantic comedies, for sure. Compared to American gay romantic comedies, I think Antarctica is steamier. My next film is planned to be graphic with extreme sex scenes. I’m casting right now and hope to shoot it during the summer; I think people are going to be very surprised by it.
I’ve watched Antarctica twice. I liked it even better the second time around, but I still wasn’t quite able to figure out the reason for the film’s title or the significance of the aliens. (Though, needless to say, I came up with my own guesses.) Without giving anything away, is it possible to elaborate a bit on why you chose to name your film Antarctica and the importance of “aliens” in those people’s – and perhaps our own – lives? Or is that up to the viewer?
It’s very important for me to clarify the name of the movie because first of all it’s not a nature documentary. So, no penguins in this one! There is more to it than just the desire of one of the characters to fly over there. The characters in this movie undergo a transformation from a frozen life to a warm and open heart. They are melting and giving in to the light to touch their soul. Also, the name of the movie symbolizes what one is willing to sacrifice if he/she really loves somebody. I think what Michal does [for her lover Shirley] is the biggest love declaration that somebody can make. I find it also in real life, that my boyfriend accepts the fact that I need to be away several times a year for film festivals.
The significance of the aliens is metaphoric, but if one of the viewers really believes in aliens I won’t take it from them…
And finally … What’s in the works for you at this time?
First of all, I’m working on TLVFest – Tel Aviv’s International LGBT Film Festival, now in its fourth year, taking place June 23-27, 2009. Submissions should be received by March 1, 2009, so please send us movies, or just come visit Tel Aviv.
Secondly, I took part in an amazing cinematic project called “Fucking Different Tel Aviv,” with another 15 Israeli gay and lesbian filmmakers, and we got into the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2009. It is an anthology of short films about what gay men think about lesbian sexuality and what lesbians think about gay [male] sexuality. I directed a three-minute movie about a fight between two women – a left-wing demonstrator and a right-wing orthodox.
I hope that I’ll shoot my next feature during July. I’m waiting to see if I’ll get the financing.