The young female soldiers in writer/director Talya’s Lavie’s super smart and very funny debut feature, “Zero Motivation,” are finding themselves. Finding themselves in the middle of nowhere (working in the administration unit–secretarial work–at the remote Shizafon Base in Israel’s desert south), finding a way to deal with tedium and absurdity, trying to find a route to a posting in Tel Aviv, trying to find friendship and love (or at least a cure for virginity).
Think M*A*S*H (with women as the main characters) grafted onto a coming-of-age story grafted onto what dinner was like growing up in my family with three very verbal, opinionated members (my mother, Babette and me).
But that’s just shorthand. There’s much more to Lavie’s unique film, which began with ideas she had during her military service for making “an army movie with the pathos and epic proportions of classic war films, but about the gray, mundane experience…of most girls during their two years of service.”
Zohar Ben-Ari (an amazing Dana Ivgy, two-time Israeli Best Actress Academy Award winner), kibbutz-raised, strong, sarcastic, prickly, endearing, the platoon’s Postal NCO, and her girlier, sassy and willfully inept best friend, Daffi (Nelly Nagar), assigned the made-up position of Paper & Shredding NCO, spend their days trying to top their own Mine Sweeper records on all of the office’s computers. Their total lack of initiative and constant insubordination frustrate their commanding officer, Rama (Shani Klein), a go-getter with dreams of a big career in the military. The other unit members, tough, Russian-born Irena and pop twins (endlessly singing duets), red-headed Liat, and Livnat, hidden behind Buddy Holly glasses, are minimally harder-working.
The film is divided into three “Stories”: “The Replacement,” “The Virgin,” and “The Commander.” Daffi struggles to get re-assigned to Tel Aviv, viewing becoming an officer as her best shot, and only makes it through the intensive training by envisioning herself striding across the city’s boulevards, toward the mall, in a uniform accessorized with stilettos. Zohar, angrily left behind, tries to act seductive in her fatigues (the khaki of the uniforms is the most vibrant color in the base and its moonscape desert surroundings–even a camel is beige). Rama strives for a promotion.
Nothing works out as planned. But when Zohar and Daffi (who has–tearfully–returned to the base as the administration unit’s new commanding officer) take each other on in a wild shootout with staple guns (“the most precious things in this office”), destroying the room, the computers and with them, months of unbacked-up work in the base’s new computer system, the disaster works out just right. What the military dishes out, intended as punishment/demotion, is exactly what Zohar and Daffi were longing for.
“Zero Motivation” will open on Wednesday, December 3 at Film Forum for a two-week run. Talya Lavie and Dana Ivgy will be in person at the 7:15 pm shows on December 3, 4 and 5. A national release will follow.