Jonathan Curiel

Film Festival Showing Sexy Israeli Drama

When Israeli director Eytan Fox finished making "Florentene" last year, he argued with network executives about sex scenes in the TV series.

Censors were alarmed by several episodes, including one that featured two male characters kissing and another that showed a woman and man having adulterous sex.
"I was very though", says Fox. "I said, 'I want it this way. I don't want to cut it. I don't want to change it.' " The network relented, and "Florentene" - a drama about nine Israelis in their 20s - aired without any reworking. The result: a hit series, praised by critics, that has been picked up for another season in Israel.

The first six episodes of "Florentene" are being shown tomorrow at the Castro and next Sunday at the UC Theater as a part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
The characters live in Florentene, a bohemian district in south Tel-Aviv. They include a beautiful children's TV host, a gossip columist, a rock 'n' roll singer, a gardner and an aspiring filmmaker who has just returned from a two-year sojourn to India. Two are gay. Their lives are complicated, filled with decisions about jobs and relationships.

The sex scenes in "Florentene" aren't designed to titillate. Instead, they seem like a natural extension of each episode's story line.

"Life with young people has a lot of sex in it," says Fox, 33. "If you're going to do a serious show about twentysomethings - it doesn't matter where you do it, in the united Stated of Israel - if you want to be true to life, if you want to move people, you have to show sex, you have to be explicit about it."

Though executives are Israel's Channel 2 approved Fox's series, they still braced themselves for complaints when "Florentene" aired. The complaints never materialized - one reason Fox considers it a breakthrough series that indicates how much Israel has changed in just the past 10 years.

The characters in "Florentene" are fallible, even if they look attractive and are physically strong. Awkward moments are common. In one episode, a character tells his parents that he is gay, announcing it while they watch the televised funeral of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Many Israelis consider Fox one of the county's best director. Before "Florentene" he created such hits as "Song of the Siren", a comedy set during the Persian Gulf War, and "Time Off", the first Israeli film to deal seriously with homosexuality in the military.

His 35-minute film "Gotta Have Heart", which he describes as a gay fantasy, is also screening at the festival. The success of "Florentene" and "Song of the Siren" show that his films have wide commercial appeal. His movies have been shown by television networks in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere in Europ and at film festivals around the world.

"I don't want to sound corny," he says, "but I want to do for Israeli culture what Ang Lee did to Taiwanese culture with films like 'The wedding Banquet' and 'Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.' He brought to America and all over the world a different culture in ways (the audience) could handle and appreciate."