Gili (Sivan Levy), a middle-class teenager who’s recently moved to the wealthy Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat HaSharon, lies in bed at night, waiting for Omri (Eviatar Mor), a cute boy at her new school, to get back to her. Her cell phone comes alive with an incoming text, and for a moment, her face is lit up by the glow. Then it goes dark.
Such moments of illumination are fleeting in Johnathan Gurfinkel’s S#x Acts, which mainly chronicles Gili’s attempts to ingratiate herself with her new classmates by sleeping with as many of them as possible. Separated into discrete segments—the film played festivals as Six Acts, before someone evidently became worried that American audiences might miss the pun—it plays as a series of similar but escalating encounters. Gili gets drunk or high or both; Gili makes herself available to boys; Gili protests, but not too much. At first, it’s a handjob in a parking lot. By the end, there seems to be a real possibility she’ll be gang-raped.
Levy, who looks like a roughed-up Lizzy Caplan, plays Gili as a bottomless well of loneliness covered by a thin layer of sexual power. She isn’t shy about her sexual exploits, casually humblebragging about them to other girls, but she’s either willfully blind to how badly Omri treats her, or she heroically ignores it, assuming his attempts to pass her around like a soiled porn mag will earn her a spot in the in-crowd.
Working in a handheld style, Gurfinkel goes at his subjects in a manner that’s meant to evoke documentary, as if he’s merely presenting the behavior rather than commenting on it. But through volume and repetition, the movie suggests these aren’t six isolated acts, but part of a pattern, and not just within this small group. S#x Acts’ on-the-fly feel and subject matter prompt obvious comparison to Larry Clark’s Kids, but where Clark was depicting a largely unknown subculture, Gurfinkel’s is set in the Israeli equivalent of Anytown, U.S.A., or at least the Topher Grace scenes from Traffic. Parents barely exist in this world—Gili’s dad is seen sprawled out on a couch, but there certainly isn’t any hint of consequences for bad behavior.
Perhaps Gurfinkel means to suggest a society off-course, but the game feels rigged, his conception of male and female roles so limited that the characters have little choice but to fall in line. Omri is a perfect encapsulation of white upper-class privilege, with his sculpted pecs and his way of keeping a cocky smile even as he grinds Gili into the dirt. But the movie only sees him from the outside, and that goes for Gili as well. Omri’s chubby friend Shabat (Niv Zilberberg) initially balks at his crass talk, and though Gili initially treats him with contempt, it seems like a real friendship might develop. But in S#x Acts, male-female relationships only head in one direction, to a degree that eventually passes through being awful and starts to verge on inadvertent comedy: Instead of fear for her safety, the latest indignity prompts a sense of “Here we go again.”