Screening at the upcoming Jewish International Film Festival, Zero Motivation, the excellent début feature from Israeli writer/director Talya Lavie, won the top prize for narrative world cinema at the Tribeca Film Festival. A black comedy addressing the mundanity of Israeli Army base HR management and secretarial duties, it focuses on a unit of female conscripts who find their camaraderie tested by the base’s comings and goings, and are willing to do anything to make their service bearable – while keeping their sanity and dignity.
Set in a remote desert military base, we are introduced to a platoon of female soldiers forced into compulsory office service; including the reckless and insubordinate Zohar (an excellent Dana Ivgy, Cupcakes, Jaffa), her closest rebel-in-arms Daffi (Nelly Tagar, Footnote), the ‘Paper & Shredding NCO’ who has long been conspiring to get a transfer to Tel Aviv, and their commanding officer Rama (Shani Klein), trying hard to rise the ranks but continually foiled by the behaviour of her unit. While deep in paperwork, and continually serving coffee to the men who run the show, these subordinates pass the time by trying to beat their Minesweeper record on the PC, and causing general mischief, while dealing with an array of personal issues that could cause them to combust at any moment.
In one of the three interweaving stories, Zohar tries to deal with her virginal status. While on pointless guard duty she meets a handsome male soldier staying on the base, and decides to skimp out of her hefty workload to meet him for a date. In another arc Zohar feels like Daffi has abandoned her when she heads off to Commander School in the hope that she will earn a position in Tel Aviv. Even though she is far from equipped for such a position, conviction is a powerful tool for inspiration. She eventually returns to the base with new responsibility, and her relationship with Zohar is put to the test.
With only their uniform to remind them that they are at war, these are women who care little about their flaws – they are bored, they badmouth their superiors and the emotional strains of frustration and jealousy lead to cunning acts of sabotage. The writing avoids any anti-war message; with Lavie drawing from her own experiences to ensure that there is an authenticity within the satire.
It is not all fun and games, though. There is a suicide and a stressful moment where Zohar finds herself sexually threatened and rescued by her mentally disturbed gun-wielding comrade. These bleak developments are opposed by equally funny moments (if you can believe that), and the film’s finale involves the two rivals wielding staple guns as weapons. Ouch.
The feisty performances from the young actresses are all effective; the snarky humour found in the mundane certainly draws some comparisons to Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H. Through the prism of war and compulsory service, Zero Motivation tackles the complexities of female life – feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, untamable desires, and the search for an identity in a ridiculously bureaucratic environment that strips an individual of one. I’m not sure a female-centric black comedy about the Israeli Defense Forces has formerly existed. Well, it does now, and it is a good one. It is a refreshing and witty, and shows a confident handling of conflicting tone and loose, freewheeling narrative storytelling.
By Andrew Buckle
Zero Motivation screens as part of the Jewish International Film Festival. Information about screening times & tickets can be found here.
Director: Talya Lavie
Writer(s): Talya Lavie
Starring: Dana Ivgy, Nelly Tagar, Shani Klein
Runtime: 100 minutes
Release date: June 25,2015