Combining workplace malaise and military monotony into an equally thoughtful and funny look at women in the Israeli army.
Explorations of workplace malaise and the resulting amusing mishaps fill films and television series in abundance, wherever that uneasy place of employment may be. Chronicles of the other side of combat are similarly plentiful, showing the struggles of soldiers and the monotony of the military. Zero Motivation combines the two within the confines of an Israeli army administration office; however the film ranges beyond the seeming familiarity of its setting and central profession. Writer/director Talya Lavie’s feature debut also casts its eye over the role of women, from perceptions and prejudices to their competition and camaraderie, in a culture that conscripts its citizens into mandatory service at the age of 18.
The daily grind is one of drudgery and despondency for pals Daffi (Nelly Tagar, Footnote) and Zohar (Dana Ivgy, Cupcakes), two pencil-pushing human resources lackeys with job titles – Paper and Shredding NCO, and Postal NCO, respectively – as pointless as their work. Their ambitious commanding officer, Rama (newcomer Shani Klein), has little sympathy for their unhappiness, as manifested in pranks, laziness, apathy and insubordination, with the tear-soaked Daffi desperate to transfer away from their remote desert station to Tel Aviv, and the sardonic Zohar anxious about her presumed status as the base’s only virgin.
Black comedy ripples through Lavie’s full-length rendering of her 2006 short film The Substitute, a fitting mechanism to express the ennui experienced by unfulfilled protagonists steeped in the boredom and bureaucracy of war. Three separate vignettes, one each dedicated to the miserable central duo, and one bringing their individual narrative threads together, chronicle the routine of military administration with insight and hilarity. The hours whiled away playing minesweeper and the revered manner in which the office’s prized possession – a staple gun – is treated are rife with multiple comic interpretations. And yet, amidst the observational humour exists discernment of the surprising kind, challenging pre-conceived notions and standards, and embracing the darkness that emanates from the situation
Indeed, Zero Motivation is a study in contrasts, as written with an understanding that likely stems from Lavie’s own service. Within frames painted in clashing shades of military green and sandy beige and heightening the juxtaposition of claustrophobic confines surrounded by such expansive landscape, every person and scenario is more than the sum of its obvious parts. The constantly singing colleagues who annoy but actually do the bulk of the work, and the seemingly insurmountable task of Rama obtaining a coveted promotion from a male superior officer, constantly thwart expected outcomes. Subversion exists within the satire, just as it does in the feature’s willingness to eschew an overt message in favour of telling a tale of treading water in a sea of aimlessness.
Impressive casting decisions further the feature’s astute blend of employment comedy and war contemplation. Instrumental in Zero Motivation’s examination of alienation and identity is the poignancy, pathos and pithiness of the characters played as resonant and realistic. Tagar brings a wide-eyed naivety to her initial incarnation of Daffi, as well as a resigned embrace of the callousness of her surroundings, whilst Ivgy’s portrayal of deadpan complacency mixed with haunting uncertainty overpowers every scene she is in. The remainder of the performers – the experienced Klein and Heli Twito, White Panther’s Meytal Gal, and Sabri Maranan’s Tamara Klingon among them – flesh out what could have remained caricatures or tools of narrative convenience in lesser hands, as is Lavie’s feat with her equally thoughtful and funny film.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Director: Talya Lavie
Israel, 2014, 100 mins
Jewish International Film Festival
Sydney: 29 October – 16 November
Melbourne: 5 – 23 November
Gold Coast: 15, 16 and 23 November
Perth: 15, 16 and 23 November
Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival
29 November – 14 December
Perth International Arts Festival – Lotterywest Festival Films
Full film season: 24 November – 12 April
Zero Motivation screening: 8 – 14 December