Johnathan Gurfinkel’s movie S#x Acts, which opened last month in Israel and the US, begins with a teenage girl (played by Sivan Levy) taking selfies on her laptop, her sometimes smiling, sometimes pouting face periodically illuminated by the flash of the computer’s camera. Gili has just transferred to a new high school in a wealthy Tel Aviv suburb, and is trying to attract the attentions of Tomer (Roy Nik), a richer, more privileged, more popular boy in her class. In the next scene, Tomer and his friend Omri (Eviatar Mor) are leaving a cinema in a mall. Pulling out their phones, they see Gili has posted one of the pictures on Tomer’s Facebook wall. ‘Look what a loser this girl is,’ he says. But Omri soon convinces him to call her.
Gili gets passed around between the boys. She gives Tomer a loveless but relatively innocuous handjob in a parking lot before being delegated to Omri, who pressures her into sharing her body with his friends. The boys’ ugly manipulations, and Gili’s numb, passive acceptance of her objectification, are filmed in an impressively naturalistic, downbeat style.
In its review, the New York Times noted that Tel Aviv in the film could ‘stand for any affluent city where bored, sexed-up teenagers communicate via smartphone’. And with the hashtag in the English title, the casual weaving of English words and phrases into the Hebrew dialogue, the characters’ offhand, internet-based post-nationalism (Gili says she got a hair extension ‘for three dollars on eBay’), the movie can seem to be divorced from any particular place, a universalised, or at least Americanised, of-the-moment cautionary tale about what happens when unscrupulous teenage boys use and abuse an insecure, eager-to-please, supposedly up-for-anything girl.
But it is a specifically Israeli story, too. The boys are the sons of Israeli businessmen who make money off shady deals in Eastern Europe, keep mistresses in Tel Aviv luxury hotels, and brag about flying business class next to the Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli’s mother. In one scene, Omri sends Gili to buy him a beer and then disappears with another girl. Gili eventually gets a text message from him: ‘Sorry babe, we had to go visit a friend who’s getting drafted.’ The boys who watch internet porn, date-rape the new girl, tell her to shave her pubic hair and film her on their smartphones sucking them off – things they are allowed to do because they are male and rich and Ashkenazi – will go into the army a year later and add another active object of contempt to their list: not only ‘sluts’ and ‘faggots’ but also Palestinians.