Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Sharply Observed Military Comedy

Zero Motivation (2014) - Lavie
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Stationed in the middle of dusty nowhere, the girls of the administration hub in an Israeli military post spend their time making coffees for the senior officers and doing boring office duties day in and day out. It's far from what we expect in the army life. No one wants to be there and longs for their discharge dates. Daffi (Nelly Tagar), a little waif not meant for military service nor any kind of simple office work, dreams of being transferred to glamorous Tel Aviv when not crying her eyes out. Her best buddy, sassy mouthed Zohar (Dana Ivgy), gets by being indifferent to the task given by senior officers and playing minesweeper on her computer all day. Rama (Shani Klein), a strict administrative officer who wants to advance in the echelons of military ladder, gets her leadership often undermined by the duo. In Talya Lavie's army comedy Zero Motivation, there is little blood, guts or glory. The Israeli women's two year mandatory military service is portrayed as anything but gung-ho patriotism. It's more like witeouts, paper shredders and staple guns: a purgatory of Kafkaesque proportion- menial tasks and mountains of paperwork.

Lavie quickly establishes the background with the opening sequence where Daffi and Zohar hitching a bus back to their post after a shabbat. As usual Zohar saves the seat for her best friend in a crowded bus. There they meet a young new soldier whom Daffi instantly takes as her replacement. Her prayer is finally answered. Soon she would be transferred! In their barracks, Daffi shows the new girl around and explains her duties, saying without any irony that she is a paper shredding NCO: the most prized items in the office are a couple of staple guns hidden inside file cabinet and so on. It is quite clear that Daffi and Zohar are not in the clique of relatively content pencil pushers who gossip incessantly and sing pop tunes together annoyingly. It turns out the new girl was not the replacement. She was not even a soldier.

After the suicide of a lovelorn 'civilian' in the barracks and finding out Zohar never sent her pleading transfer request letters to the top brass, "in order to save you the embarrassment", Daffi decides to sign up for the officer's training (with Rama's enthusiastic approval) in the hopes of getting transferred to Tel Aviv. In the meantime, Zohar desperately tries to lose her overripe virginity and scores a date with a visiting paratrooper. A sultry Russian transplant and a fellow miscreant Irena (Tamara Klingon) is haunted by the ghost of the dead girl and becomes catatonic and attaches herself to Zohar, following her to the date, promising that she won't be a bother. She snaps back to her sardonic, M-16 wielding self when Zohar gets almost date-raped by the paratrooper and places fitting judgment on him. But there are much more surprises to come.

Lavie skillfully steers away when things get darker, countering with instant funny comeuppances. With unexpected twists and turns, she keeps the mood of the film consistently light. Smart and often hilarious, the film observes the evil of inanity and boredom of the military service as well as office politics and disaffected generation unaware of their own sense of irony. Zero Motivation is a great mixture of Girls, M*A*S*H* and Office Space.

Winner of this year's Tribeca Film Festival for Best Narrative Feature, Zero Motivation opens at Film Forum, New York on December 3 and Nuart, LA on January 16.