'Zero Motivation': Helsinki Review

A modest but funny fem-centric military comedy

War's a bore for young women in Israel's army

The stakes never feel like life-or-death in Talya Lavie's Zero Motivation, a workplace comedy whose office drones, being involuntary members of the Israeli army, are too numbed by drudgery to identify with those who keep reminding them how important their mission is. Comparisons to satires from M*A*S*H to Catch-22 are inevitable and to some extent appropriate for a film so skeptical of the military mindset; but Lavie's debut (which won Tribeca's narrative feature award) has a more modest scope than those antiwar classics. Its absurdist humor is on a much lower register as well (fest-circuit comparisons to Stripes are way off), but the picture is distinctive enough that Zeitgeist Films should do well with its December launch at NYC's Film Forum.

Best friends Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) are slogging through their obligatory national service by working in a desert army base's human-resources office. While Daffi's dying to be transferred to Tel Aviv, the only place where she can imagine life is worth living, Zohar just wants to lose her virginity. In the meantime, they spend their days playing Minesweeper as commanding officer Rama (Shani Klein), a careerist convinced she can earn a promotion into the male-dominated upper ranks, desperately tries to make them seem productive. In Daffi's case, this means inventing a job title even she should be able to live up to (but can't): Paper and Shredding NCO.

In three loosely connected episodes, we watch as each woman pursues her goal in an environment where men seem to be the only ones destined for full personhood. (The few sympathetic men here tend to be impostors or otherwise alienated from their overconfident peers.) A well-drawn ensemble fleshes out the atmosphere of petty drama surrounding Daffi and Zohar, where even serious events (a heartbroken woman's suicide, for instance) can hardly make this place feel like more than a numbing Purgatory between childhood and real adult life. Comic subplots are less zany than flatly hopeless, occasionally acting as deflating metaphors for army life: These women may be trained to think of themselves as soldiers, but when push comes to shove, staple guns will be their weapons of choice.

Production company: July August Productions, Haut et Court

Cast: Dana Ivgy, Nelly Tagar, Shani Klein

Director-Screenwriter: Talya Lavie

Producer: Eilon Ratzkovsky

Director of photography: Yaron Scharf

Production designer: Ron Zikno

Costume designer: Yael Kredo

Editor: Arik Lahav-Leibovich

Music: Ran Bagno

Casting director: Orit Azulay

 

No rating, 96 minutes

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