REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For Digital First Media
You might imagine that every member of the Israeli Defense Force is a lean, mean fighting machine. The satirical dramedy, “Zero Motivation,” will quickly disabuse you of any such misconception.
The film takes place in a country in which an Army hitch is mandatory for virtually all 18-year olds of both genders. Most of “Zero Motivation” is set on a remote, desert Israeli post, circa 2004.
“Zero Motivation” consists of three demarcated segments, which involve the same distaff characters. In the film, there is little recognition of the Palestinian issue or the pervasive fear of invasion.
As the film opens, best friends, Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and Zohar (Dana Ivgy), are returning from a short leave back to their base. They struggle with their backpacks to walk the short distance from the bus to the base’s front gate.
Along the way, they meet a new conscriptee, Tehlia (Yonit Tobi). She seems suspiciously disoriented, asking whether she is at the right base.
How can Daffi and Zohar possibly survive the rigors of Army life? It turns out that they aren’t gun-wielding, front line soldiers. The women serve as clerical staff in a Human Resources unit.
Other members of the IDF may be concerned with protecting national security. However, rather than practice marksmanship, Daffi and Zohar perform mind-numbing, perfunctory office tasks. To cope with boredom, the gals play Minesweeper and other video games.
While showing Tehlia where various office supplies are stored, Daffi manifests her disdainful attitude toward the inconsequentiality of the unit’s activities. Daffi advises the new arrival, “The staple gun, the most precious thing in this office.” Mock gravity infuses the addendum, “This sucker’s lethal. Nothing else can hold up the posters.”
Daffi and Zoahar are chronic screw-ups, who are ill-suited for military life. Daffi is relegated to the lowly position of paper-shredding NCO. She dreams of being transferred to the more cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. To this end, she drafts an ongoing stream of transfer requests. Zohar isn’t much better. She is the postal NCO, charged with stuffing envelopes and licking them closed.
Daffi and Zohar are routinely disrespectful toward Rama (Shani Klein), the gung-ho sergeant of the clerical unit. Rama is striving to make her mark and have a distinguished career in the military. She routinely tries to impress the base commander, Boz (Yuval Segal), and receive a promotion to a loftier position. Rama perceives that one of her unit’s most important duties is providing coffee and snacks to Boz and his staff. Alas, Rama’s aspirations are subverted by the chronic malfeasance of her subordinates.
This is the feature debut for writer/director, Talya Lavie. She based the screenplay on her own experiences in the IDF. “Zero Motivation” is dominated by its zaniness. Indeed, it is being promoted as a cross between the Goldie Hawn flick, “Private Benjamin,” and the Steve Carell television sitcom, “The Office.” However, the film also addresses such topics as rape, suicide and nervous breakdowns. Lavie excels at reconciling the tone of the film’s disparate plot elements. She also maintains the film’s breezy pace.
In Israel, “Zero Motivation” was the leading box office hit of 2014. It was nominated for a dozen Ophyrs, Israel’s version of the Oscars. It won in six of the categories. This included awards for writer/director Talya Lavie. However, the big prize for Best Film eluded it. “Zero Motivation” went on to score two prizes at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“Zero Motivation” packs plenty of laughs and also contains some more serious observations. The engaging dramedy about ennui shows plenty of promise on the part of its neophyte filmmaker and her young cast.
*** No MPAA rating 100 minutes (In Hebrew with English subtitles)
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.