It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that Israeli writer/director Yair Hochner lays bare his entire film, Antarctica, in its first ten minutes. In fact, it would be an understatement, considering that the majority of main players are introduced through four consecutive sex scenes with Boaz (Ofer Regirer), a choreographer and connoisseur of one-night stands. The fragmented scenes are cyclical and short-lived, employing scant dialogue and markers to memorably distinguish between the characters that enter Boaz’s home. And when each romp has gone its course, the film flashes forward three years, where a real narrative begins.
At worst, this introduction might displease more conservative filmgoers with brief full-frontal nudity. At best, it displays the type of camerawork, chemistry, and body language that makes onscreen sex believable and universally appealing — two qualities, unfortunately, that Hochner struggles with plot-wise in his gay romantic comedy about young Israeli singles looking for love amid trysts.
Antarctica loosely follows Omer (Tomer Ilan), a shy librarian (surprise!), who, on the eve of his 30th birthday, seems both apathetic to and removed from the typically promiscuous, young gay scene of Tel Aviv. For these men — and many twentysomethings — the anonymity of urban areas and the instant gratification of dating websites characterize a collective rebuke of commitment. But as Omer realizes, the singles game can only be played for so long, as his garish, kvetching mother, Shoshana (played by drag queen Noam Huberman), is quick to remind him. So the hunt for a suitor is on! Sort of.
Theoretically, Antarctica would be like any other romantic comedy about finding the right guy if its technique and plot elements weren’t so cluttered. There are a slew of male characters, tied in varying degrees to each other, which create a kind of twisted love hexagon. And every one of these characters’ stories is followed sporadically in a punchy, hyperlink-cinema style that worked well for films like Happy Endings and Babel.
It doesn’t work so well here, though. To demonstrate some of the anxiety I felt trying to keep up, here’s a quick snapshot of plot: Omer’s best friend, Miki (Yuval Raz), is a flamboyant retailer who dates and has amazing sex with an older journalist, Ronen (Guy Zoaretz). Ronen lives with his ex-boyfriend Danny (Yiftach Mizrahi), a young dancer who goes on a few dates with Omer. Danny also takes dance lessons from Boaz, who he lost his virginity to years earlier. Everyone has slept with Boaz (three years ago, in the opening scenes) except Omer. Eitan (Oshri Sahar) keeps sleeping with Boaz, but Boaz can never remember who he is. Boaz has fallen in love with Danny, but Danny still might love Ronen, or want to date Omer. And so on.
It’s the kind of narrative hodgepodge that must ultimately work toward a gratifying denouement. Only it doesn’t. Instead, we follow the seductive six in various stages of dating and undress, as they try on new men like one tries on jeans. Stylistically, Antarctica has all the makings of a knockout. The nighttime shots of couples bathed in the neon Tel Aviv lights and the opaque close-ups used to create intimacy are lonesome and affecting. The chemistry between actors (and Hochner’s reluctance to hold back) speaks to a higher form of sex on the silver screen.
But what goes into Hochner’s realized aesthetic is ultimately mucked up. The numerous storylines — especially as they develop — feel forced, shoehorned into a small timeframe at the risk of legitimacy and credibility. Antarctica, in this respect, more closely resembles the pilot for a premium cable show: the artistic vision is high, the setting lends itself to intrigue and conflict, and the actors are all well-played and mind-blowingly attractive. Like most good shows, however, this one ends before it can even get started.