Written by Rona Segal
Directed by Jonathan Gurfinkel
When Larry Clark's Kids hit theaters in 1995, it was met with boundless controversy because of its graphic depictions of teenage sexuality, drug use and violence. That is to say, Kids was controversial because of its graphic depictions of reality. But that was (unbelievably) 18 years ago. This year, Larry Clark's movie is old enough to vote, old enough to buy cigarettes, old enough to star in pornography. Hell, Kids is finally old enough to go watch itself in the theater.
An awful lot can change in 18 years, everything from technology to social mores, so someone was bound to film the next generation of youth spiraling out of control. I suppose I just wasn't expecting it to come out of Israel. Not that it matters. With social media and mass communication, culture has been globalized to the extent that the kids are recognizable, the fashions are recognizable, and the music is recognizable--even if you can't understand the lyrics.
Beautiful high schooler Gili has recently transferred schools, hoping to improve her social standing in new surroundings. She befriends popular boys Tomar and Omri, and a little teenage lust quickly devolves into something darker. With every encounter becoming more and more sexual, it's not long before she's being passed around like a communal cigarette.
Not long ago, a teenage girl could sleep around and have only rumors to contend with. These days, everybody has a smartphone, and proof of these sexual encounters is only a sly slide of the finger away. The attention that one receives for indiscretions easily becomes negative attention, and although Gili seems like she wants to escape from this vicious circle, it doesn't appear as if she knows how. And because of this, she doesn't even try, relegating herself to being used and abused by a pack of would-be Frat Brats who have never been denied anything. It's infuriating and heartbreaking to watch innocence shattered in pursuit of a happiness that will never come.
Detractors of this film will say that it is rather plotless, and there is some truth to that. It floats along from day-to-day, offering up slice-of-life glimpses of Gili's exploitation, and then it ends rather abruptly. You won't walk away from this movie feeling entertained...but you also won't walk away from it before the closing credits begin to roll. You'll find yourself too entrenched in the despair to look away. Don't think of S#X Acts as entertainment, don't even think of it as a movie. Think of it as fictional reality, one that the majority of parents simply don't won't to acknowledge.
This movie should be just as controversial as Kids, however I'm willing to wager that it will come and go without nearly the amount of uproar. This could be a sign of the changing societal mores previously mentioned, but more than likely there's another explanation. It is a foreign film, and it is subtitled, and that brings with it a stigma that stings both ways: a large portion of the movie-going public will not sit down to watch a movie that requires reading; and those that do watch it will tend to think of it as an art film--never mind the fact that if all of the same actors spoke English, they would consider it exploitation. In a case such as this, controversy works as publicity, and so I fear that not nearly as many people will see this movie as they should.
This isn't the type of film that I normally review here, but sometimes you have to expand your boundaries to see a bit more of the world around you. Recommended.
S#X Acts is available on VOD, and is playing in select theaters.
Special thanks to Tribeca Film for the screener!