Posted in: Review

S#x Acts

Somebody (I no longer recall who) once said this about sex in movies: If the film is American, it’s dirty; if the film is foreign, it’s art. The point being, American movies often have a very juvenile attitude toward sexuality — as evidenced, for instance, by the American Pie series — whereas foreign films take a much more serious look at it. S#x Acts, an Israeli film from director Johnathan Gurfinkel, is most definitely serious, and it’s most definitely of artistic intent. However, it also doesn’t tell you much about the provocative subject of teen sexuality that you don’t already know.

Sivan Levy plays a teenage girl named Gili. She has recently moved to a new school and wants to improve her social standing. To accomplish this task, she makes herself sexually available to several popular boys. First, she has a brief encounter with Tomer (Roy Nik), to whom she gives digital pleasure. Then she moves on to his best friend Omri (Eviatar Mor). Omri is a little freaky, as the kids all say, and proves quite willing to pass Gili around to his other buddies, and even his little brother. S#x Acts is presented as a series of encounters, each one more dehumanizing to Gili than the last. She thinks that she is using the boys, but we can see that the exact opposite is taking place, especially once Omri begins circulating a cell phone video of Gili servicing him in a public restroom. Parental supervision is nowhere to be found, which is most powerfully illustrated in the final scenario.

S#x Acts is certainly timely. It attempts to portray incidents like the Steubenville, Ohio rape case — situations in which teen boys are either too dumb to know, or too callous to care about, the point at which their actions tip over into sexual violation. Gurfinkel shoots in a documentary-like style that often feels very real, and the utterly naturalistic performances add to that. Watching the movie is frequently uncomfortable because, let’s face it, we know the things it is depicting are happening somewhere in the world right now. S#x Acts is critical of the behaviors of its characters while maintaining empathy for poor, confused Gili, yet the film fails to provide the kind of structure that would have allowed it to have a more defined perspective on the subject matter. There’s no early development of Gili, so she’s already offering herself up when we first meet her. We don’t fully understand the factors that led her to make the decision to give boys whatever they want, at her own expense. Similarly, we see precious little of her life in between these sexual encounters, making it tough to know how she feels in regard to her liaisons after the fact. And while the movie is astute in its portrayal of adolescent males selfishly thinking only with their “little heads,” the story’s justification for such a mentality is a bit too thin: Lackadaisical parenting is to blame here. That’s true to a certain extent, but a lot more things contribute to the shameless exploitation of women. S#x Acts fails to acknowledge them.

In some respects, the film does work as a cautionary tale. It’s well-made on a technical level, feels gritty and real, and leaves you with an appropriately unsettled feeling. The plot, ironically, just doesn’t go far enough. A too-abrupt ending fails to make as impactful a statement as one would like, and without fuller development of Gili’s motives — or a more defined expression of how she feels in regard to her increasing degradation — the super-explicit sex scenes are so uncomfortable as to become distancing. S#x Acts is admirable for its intentions; the execution, on the other hand, comes up short.

Comments (3) on "S#x Acts"

  1. not all films need to fit into the 3 act structure, complete with the inciting incident and midpoint twist, and with the protagonist “learning” some thing about him or herself, you know. There are other verities outside the Hollywood universe. I thought the film was powerful and effective.

  2. The powerful impact of S#x Acts is in the universality of using manipulation to sexually abuse. For that reason it is not necessary to know more about the heroine Gili. She could be the new girl at school who wants to fit in or the girl who feels “not in the IN crowd” or the girl who is going through a rough time at home or the girl who likes a boy who doesn’t really like her. It’s about manipulation for sexual pleasure at the expense of the vulnerable. It’s about looking at the phenomena that we all recognize, without blinking or turning away, because the universal Gili is worthy of being seen. It’s about looking the perpetrators of abuse in the eye. It’s about beginning a conversation to change a culture that overlooks sexual abuse because, in our society sex, is more about being a man and less about relationships.

  3. I know I’m coming late to this review but I only just watched the film so I’m browsing around rotten tomatoes. I find it interesting you say we don’t know Gili when I can tell you a lot about her: she’s new, she left her previous school due to bullying, and she wants to be liked and doesn’t know who to avoid. she’s ashamed of being poor, and doesn’t get on with either of her parents, and is particularly upset by the fact that her ignoring her father over some slight proceded to him ignoring her. she wants to be noticed, but she’s shy and not good with words or expressing her emotion, so she dresses provocatively and lies about a lot of things, mainly her own emotions. she wants to be cool, and she thinks cool means not caring what other people think, but she just comes off as abnormal. she’s very inexperienced – she seems shocked by each new development with the boys, and often wants something more from them, mostly attention and affection. she makes increasingly bad choices in order to meet those needs and the boys manipulate that insecurity and love-hunger.

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