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Zero Motivation (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Zero Motivation

Zero Motivation


Starring Dana Ivgy, Nelly Tagar, Shani Klein, Heli Twito, Meytal Gal, Tamara Klingon, Yonit Tobi, Yuval Segal and Elad Scemama.

Screenplay by Tayla Lavie.

Directed by Tayla Lavie.

Distributed by Zeitgeist Films.  100 minutes.  Not Rated.

There is a long history of films mocking the drudgery and soul-crushing bureaucracy of military service.  The line goes back to films like No Time For Sergeants, Dr. Strangelove, M*A*S*H, Catch-22, Stripes, Private Benjamin, all the way up to more recent films like Three Kings and Jarhead.

This Israeli import is not on the level of those classics (well maybe it is up with Jarhead), but it does give us a look at military malaise from a different land.

Also like Jarhead, Zero Motivation is about the banal, deadening boredom of life as a grunt.  The soldiers, for better or worse, get to see some action.  However, what is life like if you are assigned to become a low-level pencil pusher in the human resources section of the Administrative office of a military base out in the middle of nowhere?

Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and Zohan (Dana Ivgy) are two of the members of this not-quite-top-level troop.  Both are trying to make it through their two-year military service (all young Israelis, women as well as men, must spend at least this amount of time in service).

Unfortunately, they quickly find that their duties mostly revolve around making their superiors snacks and coffee and trying to make some sense out of decades of completely muddled records.

They are not exactly highly motivated.  Zohan spends hours playing ancient video games like Minesweeper and Solitaire on the office computer.  Daffi spends most of her free time writing her superiors, begging to be re-assigned to a more interesting post in Tel Aviv.

They are friends, sort of, in the way that people thrown into situations they can’t stand cling to others who share their hatred of what is happening to them.

They are openly insubordinate to their superior (Shani Klein), an anally retentive woman who is eating constantly when she isn’t yelling at her subordinates.  The only real danger they have to deal with are the industrial strength staple guns which could be used as a weapon, if one were so inclined.

Zero Motivation is broken down into three sections – each about 40 minutes long – which cover pretty much the first year of their service.  They aren’t both there the whole time – Daffi is reassigned temporarily and Zohan spends some time in the brig for one of her more in-your-face acts of insubordination.

The first segment shows the two women and their bunkmates trying to come to terms with life in the military, until a lovesick civilian sneaks on base and commits suicide.  The second part is after Daffi has been sent to another base and the other women find out that Zohan is a virgin, and they decide that they need to get her laid, despite the fact that the commander has given them a nearly impossible job of filing and cleaning the office.  The final bit had Daffi returning, having proven herself as a soldier, and being given the commanding position, causing serious friction between her and Zohan.

It’s interesting and sometimes very funny stuff, though in the long run the film seems a little like its protagonists: not exactly sure what it wants to do or get across to people.

I have to reuse a line I used to close out my review of Jarhead nine years ago, just because it is so apropos to this film: In the world of Zero Motivation, war isn’t hell, it’s just a real drag.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: January 16, 2015.

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