S#x Acts (film review)
S#x Acts (2013) Tribeca Films
1 hr. 36 mins.
Starring: Sivan Levy, Eviatar Mor, Roy Nik, Niv Zilberberg, Tal Grushka, Gita Amely, Melrav Gruber, Eran Ivanir, Ronit Yudkevich
Directed by: Jonathan Gurfinkel
MPAA Rating: NR
Genre: Drama (NOTE: In the Hebrew language with English subtitles)
Critic’s rating: *** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)
Israeli filmmaker Jonathan Gurfinkel’s raw and penetrating feature debut S#x Acts is a stark character study of adolescent alienation within the provocative realm of sexual acceptance, mischievousness, escapism and manipulation. Thoroughly inventive, disturbing and explosive, S#x Acts examines the desperation and angst-ridden complications of a teenaged girl looking for acknowledgement from her peers during a difficult time of transitioning in her life. Gurfinkel’s probing narrative is one of the most disturbing and confrontational expositions about youth-oriented anxiousness and detachment.
In addition to Gurfinkel’s distinctive and compelling direction, screenwriter Rona Segal delivers a shocking account of a young woman named Gili Shulman (Sivan Levy) whose brand of heavy-handed malaise in her domestic existence with her mother (Melrav Gruber) is only matched by her eagerness to seductively accommodate the popular materialistic crowd at her new high school—particularly appeasing the hotshot leader of this heralded bunch in the swaggering Omri Stein (Eviatar Mor). S#x Acts is indeed a rough-around-the-edges cautionary tale of peer pressure and the deterioration contributing to teen disillusionment and degradation.
Poor Gili yearns to fit in at her new school and socially clinging to the likes of the celebrated Omri is her reassuring ticket to surviving the in-crowd and perhaps tossing away her uneventful past. Gili is no innocent flower by any stretch of the imagination. She is wild and engages in excessive smoking and drinking. Plus, Gili uses her sexuality as a vital tool and the opportunistic cad Omri definitely knows how to exploit this angle. As the new girl on the scene, Omri realizes that he can get the eager Gili to do anything he desires. Whether he persuades her to physically please him on a whim or share Gili sexually with his other buddies Omri wields some major psychological power over this lost sexpot.
Gili is relentlessly blinded by her sordid association with Omni and actually does enjoy the recklessness and twisted excitement that he brings to her wounded psyche. As informed by a group of females at the local hangout, Gili is told that her so-called boyfriend Omri is screwing around on her with his former girlfriend Noa (Gita Amely). To save face, Gili states that even if Omri is stepping out on her that she basically uses him for casual sex and also plays around lustfully with his more sensitive pal Tomer (Roy Nik) as well. At this point, we realize how hurt Gili is by Omri’s indifference and his roving eyes for other skirts but she needs him as an emotional investment to cope with her low self-esteem issues.
Omri is quite despicable in how he uses Gili but she is a willing doormat waiting to be walked on by him at any given notice. When Omri wants some intimacy with Noa he sends the clueless Gili off on a wild goose chase to retrieve beer despite her underage status then refuses to answer her phone calls or text messages afterwards. Omri has no respect for Gili and passes her around to be groped on by his cohorts Tomer, Shabat (Niv Zilberberg) and even considers turning Gili into a human sex toy for his 13-year old brother Barel (Tal Grushka) to experiment with since he seemed so fascinated with her (Barel and his little buddies got hold of a video featuring Gili doing fellatio on his big brother Omri).
The humiliation is non-stop as Omri demanded a nasty sexual encounter in the men’s room at a nightclub from Gili. Apparently he volunteered her carnal skills to another associate from the club—but the inebriated Gili refused to comply which earned a big-time snub from Omri. Naturally this opened the door for the bulky Shabat (who was previously rebuffed from Gili) to get a physical shot at her while she is being shunned by the insufferable Omri.
S#x Acts cleverly counts down the six elaborate ways that Gili delves into her silent despair as she gives up her body for the sake of belonging. We know that her uncompromising sexual dalliances are not all that pleasurable for her as she would want to make you believe. Clearly, there is emptiness inside this young girl’s broken heart that screams volumes of built-up outrage. At first Gili sacrifices her dignity and violated body and merely accepts this horrific gesture as titillating and advantageous. As Gurfinkel stretches her sexual limits to each hormonal act we begin to see the cynicism in Gili as she realizes the extent of her outlandishness. In fact, she is genuinely surprised when Omri and her other sexual encounters reduce her reputation to that of a common pornographic tramp.
Levy is absolutely convincing as the beleaguered Gili Shulman whose discontentment is the ultimate badge of any young woman tempted to give in to the inner sadness that they cannot otherwise express constructively. Levy’s toxic tart Gili is fixating in her self-destructive naughtiness but you also feel her sense of stinging vulnerability that unassumingly fuels her underlying rage and resentment. The supporting cast are stellar especially the standout in Mor as the perverse puppeteer with the polished looks and deviant agenda.
Indeed, S#x Acts is an ambitious and impressive first-time outing for Gurfinkel and it would be interesting to see him dabble some more in the territory of pinpointing elusive conformity tarnishing young, restless minds.
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: