Talya Lavie’s feature film debut is the outrageously brilliant, Zero Motivation; another in a line of fascinating, revealing and powerful filmmaking from Israel telling women’s stories. Centred around a group of female soldiers out in the middle of the desert, Zero Motivation is often laugh out loud whilst making you think at the same time and it takes a very intelligent filmmaker and a very talented cast to allow that to happen. The film is split up into three tales with the same characters that cross between the stories.
Easily comparable to independent female filmmaking coming from American at the moment (think Lena Dunham, Desiree Akhavan, Jenny Slate), Zero Motivation follows Daffi (Nelly Tagar) a young soldier whose speciality is shredding the papers in the office and who has no intention in sticking around in the desert longer than she needs to. Her heart is set on getting to Tel Aviv because she is sure that as a soldier living there she would have a much better quality of life. Her best friend is Zohar (the outstanding Dana Ivgy), who is a no bullshit sort of gal. She sorts out the mail in the office and has no interest in getting along with her boss and the head of this unit of girls, Rama (Shani Klein) who actually would rather be out training and working with the men. These three women make up the crux of the storytelling and whilst they are wildly different in many ways, they are all looking for a reason and a way out of their current situation.
The first story sees a random new girl join their camp, Daffi assumes this is a replacement that has been sent to take her role for when she leaves for Tel
Aviv. She explains to Rama that she had sent the Chief of Staff a letter explaining why she should be moved and finally this new girl is the answer to her prayers. The audience are introduced to the rest of the girls in the unit; the loud pair that sing all the time and the tough bitch who thinks she rules the roost – soon the day to day workings of the camp are made clear. The girls are relegated to an office where they look after paperwork and make the coffee for the men – this is obviously a very specific story that Lavie is telling. Whereas often the girls are the most intelligent of the lot, they are not asked about strategy or to perform in any operation, instead they are told to adhere to a dated gender stereotype. Perhaps this is why Rama doesn’t receive her happy ending because she spends the film trying to get promoted – she wants a more active role within their community. Of course nothing is as it seems and the mysterious girl that appears one day has something totally different on her mind. Needless to say Daffi isn’t getting to Tel Aviv just yet.
When Zohar’s story takes centre stage, Ivgy gives a credible and stunning performance as a girl who wants everyone around to see one side of her but in fact she is much more naive and unaware than she lets on. She would much rather spend her time playing computer with her friend but soon the conversation amongst the girls turns to sex and the audience learn that Zohar is a virgin. She then sets out to lose her virginity at the camp and prove the others around her wrong. Lavie’s storytelling works so beautifully here because Zohar is constantly caught between childhood innocence and adultness – the story is concerned with this lack Zohar believes that she has but in fact it comes back around and openly discusses female sexuality and camaraderie in a frank and passionate way.
The last story follows Rama who is trying so hard to get a promotion and when she ends up losing it, she finds that the army can easily spit her out and send her home (where she really doesn’t want to go). She is replaced (ironically) with Daffi who has since left the desert and trained as an IDF soldier before returning back to the one place she really doesn’t want to be. She is confronted by Zohar and the pair have one of the best fights ever recorded on film (their main weapons are keyboards and staple guns).
Zero Motivation is filled with so many hilarious moments, which makes the audience stand back from the story (how often could you assume a story of Israel soldiers would be funny?) and think honestly. It makes them consider everything they think they know and turns it all on it’s head. Often it’s small things that Daffi and Zohar do that are the funniest and the juxtaposition between their school girl silliness and the simmering of war around them is something so rarely seen on film, if ever. These girls are all so self deprecating and so self aware, it’s as if Wes Anderson and Lena Dunham had adopted a child together and Woody Allen was the Godfather.
An outstanding piece of comedy filmmaking and a genuinely brilliant example of the kinds of films coming from Israel, Zero Motivation is worthy of the best accolades and Talya Lavie is a filmmaker to watch out for.