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‘S#x Acts’ approaches taboo topic with ambiguity

Posted on December 4, 2013 | by J. R. Hammerer

Courtesy of Tribeca Film

The pound symbol in the title of Johnathan Gurfinkel’s debut film makes it ambiguous. “S#x Acts” could stand for “Six Acts” or “Sex Acts,” but like most of the movie, the actual meaning is never made clear. It’s actually a moot point — there are sexual acts in the movie, and sure enough, there are six of them.

The film touches on a real, seemingly endless issue — the sexualization of teenagers — but is far too detached, mechanical and vapid to have much effect. If a filmmaker explores so delicate a topic, he or she needs both a proper context and a thoroughness of vision. Gurfinkel, however, confuses being ambiguous with being needlessly vague.

Gurfinkel’s boldness should be applauded, however. It’s daring to confront this material head-on, but a filmmaker must follow through and make a film that explores all the ramifications with honesty. “S#x Acts” continuously avoids such commitment.

Gurfinkel’s protagonist, teenager Gili, is a rough draft of a well-drawn character. The film, in its hurry to throw her into as many couplings as possible, ignores opportunities to define who she is. An early scene shows promise — Gili’s friends drop her outside of a standard upper-middle class home, only for the girl to cross over to her lower-class apartment building after they leave. Why is she hiding her background? What, if anything, is pushing her to act like this? The film shows a sleeping father on a couch and small talk with a mother, and treats that as the final word.

Sivan Levy, the young actress portraying Gili, is another miscalculation. She does not lack talent — she draws the audience’s attention, as lust, fear and shame spread across her face. But there’s a sharpness about her, an awareness and eagerness to jump into the fray. Gili is supposed to seem naive, convinced she’s the one using the boys when it’s clear who holds the real power. Levy looks like someone who would get the hint instead of taking a long time to wise up.

What is ultimately the most off-putting trait of “S#x Acts” is its blatant contrast between stated purpose and behavior. For a film about exploring the consequences of casual, meaningless sex, it rarely dwells on its effects.

The sex scenes themselves, while fairly tame and free of nudity, are extended and salivated over for a discomforting length of time, with Levy struggling in the grasp of increasingly boorish, threatening suitors.

The film, despite its devotion to deconstructing the idea of debasing women sexually, is a little too excited to see its female lead be exploited. “S#x Acts” thinks if it lies about its intentions often enough, the audience will be seduced into thinking it has more than a dirty mind. Unfortunately, the audience easily sees through the film’s falsity.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 4 print edition. J.R. Hammerer is a staff writer. Email him at


Tatiana Baez

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