David D'Arcy
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David D'Arcy's Outtakes

No Saints in “S#x Acts”

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Sex Follows Real Estate — The Suburbs That BiBi Built

S#x Acts dir. Jonathan Gurfinkle, Israel, 93 minutes, 2012 (original title, Six Acts)  at Cinema Village, also on VOD from Tribeca

S#x Acts, a grim view of the fruits of Israeli prosperity, is a troubling look at idle youth in Ramat Hasharon, a gilded Gucci-ized seaside setting that Israelis call their Malibu. It’s the feature premiere of director Jonathan Gurfinkle and writer Rona Segal. Think of the disparaging description, high school with money. That’s what this is, literally.

Do You Come Here Often? - Sivan Levy (right)

If the title sounds like Sex Acts, it’s no coincidence. Dark-eyed Gili (Sivan Levy) has just transferred to a high school in a wealthy suburb, and she is looking for friends among the boys there, starting in a parking lot. Think of the innocent look of the late Brittany Murphy in Clueless (whom Gili resembles in a haunting way), and then darken the picture and apply a whoozy infusion of alcohol in swimming pools, malls and trophy houses (Israelis call them villas) that look like they’ve been styled for spreads in the Israeli version of Architectural Digest.

Gurfinkle, a young veteran of Israeli tv (and son of the noted photographer/cinematographer David Gurfinkle), follows Gili as she bounces from boy to boy, as if this consumerized Israeli paradise is a high-toned mosh pit. Rona Segal’s script is relentless – seething with anger, Segal told me after the film screened in Haifa. Segal said she wrote the script five years ago, and that she might have added some compassion had she been older.  Like it or not, the temperament of the scenario fits the story. Sivan Levy, older than her teenaged character, is no less believable as a lonely girl willing to do anything for what promises to be friendship. For that kind of girl, don’t expect much security in this vision of Israel.

In Screen out of San Sebastian, Finn Halligan registered the feature-length jolt that Six Acts delivers.

Don’t expect novelty, even though S#x Acts, painful as it is to watch, couldn’t be a better audition tape for Gurfinkle, Segal and Levy.

Watching S#x Acts, you can’t help but think of Kids by Larry Clark, or of the early 1980’s Less Than Zero syndrome of over-pampered youth, neglected in lavish abandon – most recently seen in Savages, by Oliver Stone.  We’ve seen plenty of US versions of this sexualized look at the effects of the surplus of luxury and the scarcity of guidance, and twists on it from France, Latin America, and elsewhere. I can’t wait for one set in one of the Gulf Nations. There’s certainly plenty of raw material.

The Israeli take on this – coming, as Israelis will tell you, fifteen years (or much longer) after it happens in the US – is not just applying a cookie-cutter to yet another setting.  Israelis (some Israelis) have often said that they want to be seen as any other country. If you grant them that, the predatory youth in S#x Acts are part of that global equality.

In a much paraphrased observation, David Ben Gurion said “’When Israel has prostitutes and thieves, we’ll be a state just like any other.’ Add spoiled kids without anything that looks like a conscience, and S#x Acts expands the group portrait.

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