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.