' Cinema Romantico: Zero Motivation

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Zero Motivation

Talya Lavie’s “Zero Motivation” is sort of the Israeli answer to “Office Space”, presenting life on a remote desert army base as rife with tedium, repetitiveness, pointlessness and the be-all, end-all preciousness of the stapler. Yet it strikes a different tone than Mike Judge’s cult classic, and not just because of its refreshing feminist leanings, focusing on a pair of teenage girls rather than lazily embittered men. In spite of “Office Space’s” condemnation of the cubicle farm crucible it still seemed to believe every American deserved to sit on a beach and drink pina coladas. “Zero Motivation” would believe no such paradise awaits.


The film revolves, more or less, around a pair of pals, Zohar (Dana Ivgy), a 9-to-5 pacifist, and Daffi (Nelly Tagar), who dreams of fleeing the middle of nowhere for Tel Aviv. And when they take on a protégé, it allows for a quick overview of how their world works. It also, however, is eventually revealed that rather than a newly christened army conscript, their trainee is a phony, a young girl who snuck on base to visit her boyfriend. All this yields more dire consequences, which this review will not reveal, but the overriding point remains – a boy governs her life.

“Zero Motivation” repeatedly reminds us these are women in a man’s world. Zohar becomes determined to make time with a boy, like it’s an Israeli version of “American Pie”, only have it go hideously haywire, and to have Daffi come to her rescue. Their direct superior, Rama (Shani Klein), yearns for a promotion, to talk shop with the male officers without having to have her “girls” provide coffee and snacks for the right to do so. Those ambitions, however, are more often than not compromised by her “girls” who never seem to get anything right, mostly for a lack of concern, not simply for Rama but for everything. What good what it do? When Daffi gets out by going for officer’s training and seems poised for her fantasyland of Tel Aviv, she winds up shipped right back to where she was.

In “Office Space” the exact point of the company at the film’s forefront was explained if never exactly understood. In “Zero Motivation” the incentive would appear clearer – that is, they are in the midst of a conflict with Palestine. This is God’s work, right? Eh, who knows? No steps are taken to provide political context and the film pointedly never comes across like an allegory for the region’s never-ending holy war, nor does it succumb to the timeworn metaphor of – to quote Pvt. Chris Taylor – “we fought ourselves.” That’s because war is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Aside from epic bouts of “Minesweeper”, the only battles fought involve bureaucracy and the pettiness of on/off friends. Days are filled with paperwork and papers being shred as opposed to rocket fire. The Conflict, occasionally referenced, nevertheless feels far, far away. There are no winners, no losers, not even really a fight, no matter how much everyone tries to pick one. The whole film just dissolves into an existential cloud of nothingness.

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