There aren’t a whole lot of words to describe that feeling of intimacy where everyone knows each other in the, ah, Biblical sense, but the feelings are not necessarily all-around mutual. Such sentiment pollutes the lives of characters at the heart of “S#x Acts,” a powerful Israeli film that follows that conflict as it weighs down one girl with a deadly combination of Mediterranean beauty and middling self-esteem.
That girl is Gili (Sivan Levy), a modest high schooler who longs for the touch of laid-back classmate Tomer (Roy Nik), a lanky, disaffected type who appears attractive simply because he doesn’t seem to care. While he cannot deny the appeal of being chased by a pretty young crush, his indifference shines through, and his gregarious pal Omri (Eviatar Mor) is more than happy to pick up the pieces. Gili’s attraction to Tomer doesn’t simply stem from his handsomeness, but also a class issue: when dropped off at home, Gili fakes entering a fancy apartment complex instead of the more modest walk-up across the street where her family actually lives.
Tomer humors Gili, but Omri latches onto the young girl not because of her beauty (although Levy is a gorgeous girl with unforgettably sharp features that suggest Bettie Page as a blade), but because she seems more than willing to showcase her feminine wiles in exchange for running with this crew. Omri comes across like a handsomer version of Joe Francis, always prepared with a witty come-on and a shit-eating grin that suggests his off-the-cuff charm would, in a more fair reality, make him a popular car salesman or, more accurately, a sex-crime prettyboy on a leash behind bars. With every eyebrow-raise, he continues to seduce a reluctant Gili, who regards him as something of a boyfriend even if she’s just one of many. A moment when Gili reveals to a gang of girls that she’s been sleeping with him reverberates with tension and sadness, as Gili struggles to retain hold of the narrative implying that she is in control of her own exploitation, the implication being that she’s free to seduce whomever she likes.
Omri can’t resist turning her into something of a groupie, borderline prostituting her for his friends. The one beacon of hope seems to be Shabat (Niv Zilberberg), the only member of the group without the physique of a male model. And Shabat, unfortunately, doesn’t have a conscience that stands a chance against his worst urges, revealing himself as something of a traitor to Gili’s salvation. The tete-a-tete between them is interesting, in that Gili doesn’t view him as a sexual creature simply because of his doughy appearance, and eventually she refuses to acknowledge him as a potential pollutant in her life as much as the other men, working on marching orders from Omri, creating an atmosphere where Gili, without a relevant parental figure, develops an understanding: this is the order of things between men and women, between sexes, between classes, between lifestyles.
There’s no real fresh insight to be gained from “S#x Acts,” which takes its title from the film’s structure (built around six sex acts that seem to intensify). That weakness also works as a strength, the narrow focus allowing a near-confrontational look at one girl stuck in that nexus between preventing and allowing her exploitation. Some will open up the conversation of “Six Acts” by acknowledging that none of the situations fit the “traditional” definition of rape. Others, current company included, can’t ignore that each of these six acts are a violation, of trust and identity, that go far beyond the verbalizing of our harmful actions. We mustn’t forget, each day one man on a power trip is exploring that edge against a woman, and entire subcultures based around “partying” and emphasizing “youth” seem to encourage it, under the guise of “turning a deaf ear.” With its broad, ambiguous title, “Six Acts” reminds us, with heartbreaking power, that sometimes vigilance just isn’t enough, and all it takes is an “act” or two to change a life forever. [A-]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.