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Zero Motivation mines laughs from an unlikely setting

By in Culture

Exploring the day-to-day life and antics of a group of female administrative workers in the Israeli army, Zero Motivation is what your average movie-goer might think of as a tough sell.

Zero Motivation is hardly your typical workplace comedy. With an almost entirely female cast and a story rooted in Israeli conflict, it would be easy for the typical Hollywood audience to shy away from this darkly funny offering from first time writer-director Talya Lavie. But don’t let any preconceived notions keep you from checking out this wholly original offering. Zero Motivation is a low-stakes comedy that reaps its rewards from its innovative setting.

All Israeli citizens are required to serve a mandatory two to three years in their country’s military service. The film follows the trials and interpersonal disputes that two friends — Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and Zohar (Dana Ivgy) — face as they live out this mandatory conscription.

Bound together by their job of doing menial administrative duties in the Human Resources Office of their remote base — such as making coffee for commanding officers and shredding documents — a rift brews between the two women as Daffi takes surprising strides toward realizing her dream of living in Tel Aviv while Zohar remains content to simply waste away her days until her military time runs out.

The plot is on point overall with the leads and supporting characters given strong storytelling arcs as they butt heads over their own desires. But the brilliance of Zero Motivation lies in the comedic depths it’s able to mine from its premise.

The women at the center of the film may live on an army base, but these non-commissioned officers spend a great deal more time shuffling paperwork around and competing for a high score in minesweeper than they do carrying a firearm. The film is much closer to a feature-length episode of The Office than it is to American Sniper, even if it does share in the latter’s militaristic setting.

The film is a powerful debut for Lavie, who displays a confidence behind the lens that shows in everything from the performance of her actors to her ability to stage a scene. It’s always a pleasure to watch a director who is nimble enough to be able to sprinkle vital information in something as simple as getting on a bus or derive nail-biting tension in the normally mundane task of deleting computer files.

Still, the film is not without its faults. Some may see the way a few characters define themselves in relation to men to be troublesome. This is largely counterbalanced by women like Rama (Shani Klein), the overseeing officer, who spends her time bucking the title theme as she consistently claws for any foothold that might bound her further up the military ladder.

An on-base suicide and a near rape are also perhaps too easily shrugged off by the filmmakers. Though the two instances are integral to the plot as a whole and their consequences reverberate through the remainder of the film, neither appears to have much of an effect on a character level.

But the film more than makes up for such drawbacks by routinely succeeding on all other fronts through its stellar writing, the superior acting from its cast, the strong direction from Lavie and the comic timing displayed by everyone onboard.

Zero Motivation is an insightful study of friendship that injects familiar characteristics — fear of abandonment, relentless boredom and job dissatisfaction — into a wholly unique setting. It will be exciting to see what the cast and crew do from here with such a strong output behind them. They’ll certainly have a triumph in their pocket to keep them motivated.

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