The Israeli army is, for most, an intimidating force to be reckoned with. Talya Lavie’s debut film, Zero Motivation, however, proves that there is indeed a softer side to the world’s most highly regarded military defense–albeit a rough-hewn sort of softness.
Broken into three segments–“The Replacement,” “The Virgin” and “The Commander”–that follow the mundane lives of Zohar (Dana Ivgy), Rama (Shani Klein) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) as they serve out their time (conscription is a way of life in Israel) in a soul-killing administrative office on a remote base called Shizafon a.k.a. Shit-a-phone, Zero Motivation blends elements of The Office (UK version, the only one as far as a viewer with taste is concerned), Orange is the New Black and Private Benjamin to create an unprecedented satire about the military.
With the first tale centering around Tehila (Yonit Tobi), a wide-eyed “officer” who has been obsessing over an Israeli soldier named Ethan (Moshe Ashkenazi) she met months ago, we’re exposed to the dark side of longing and the often callous nature of male Israeli soldiers (as later showcased with Zohar’s tryst as well). So determined to reunite with the soldier she’s convinced loves her, Tehila poses as an officer and unwittingly convinces Daffi, who has been dying to be transferred to Tel Aviv, that she is her replacement. Tehila then sneaks onto the part of the base where Ethan lives and interrupts a sexual encounter with his current girlfriend. Instantly offput by her neediness and creep factor, he treats her like less than nothing, urging her to leave at once. The encounter is made worse by her love interest’s hidden girlfriend emerging from underneath the bed where she’s been hiding. Promptly after the incident, she cuts herself down the length of her stomach with a box cutter to commit suicide.
The macabre death doesn’t shake Tehila’s fellow bunkmates too much, least of all, Zohar, who is too jaded to care about much of anything, especially after Daffi shuns her upon learning that all the letters she wrote to the Chief of Staff were thrown away by Zohar. Determined to prove Zohar wrong about her patheticness in trying to be transferred, she appeals to Rama, their commanding officer, through obsequiousness. So unaccustomed to any of the NCOs displaying respect toward her, Rama asks Daffi to sing her praises to their base commander, Boaz (Yuval Segal). Daffi is soon sent to basic training to fulfill her dream, leaving Zohar on her own to beat Minesweeper records and try to lose her virginity, which she is made fun of mercilessly for by her fellow officer, Irena (Tamara Klingon).
One night, while assigned to guard a part of the base alone, Zohar encounters Meir (Elad Smama), a visiting paratrooper, and decides to lose her virginity to him. They agree to meet in the canteen the next night at ten, but Rama’s determination to organize every single file in the office in time for a “surprise” inspection by Boaz, in addition to Irena’s sudden possession by the ghost of Tehila after she sleeps in her bed, thwarts the romantic vibe Zohar wants to create. Using the excuse of taking Irena to the infirmary to get out of helping the other NCOs organize the office, Zohar must then contend with Irena’s presence on her date with Meir–which ultimately leads to her sneaking away in defeat. She’s later surprised that he is still waiting for her after she leaves the eventual group of women that congregate at their table to cause further interruptions.
Zohar and Meir find a quiet place to go in order for Zohar to rid herself of the accursed virgin moniker, but when Meir gets too rough with her against her wishes, Tehila as Irena bursts on to the scene, picks up Meir’s rifle from the ground and screams, “She’s a girl, not a trash can. You think you can stick your dick in anywhere?” By avenging Zohar’s honor, Tehila makes peace with what happened between her and Ethan, prompting her to exit Irena’s body. Unfortunately for Zohar, who needs an alibi for Rama, Irena remembers nothing that happened afterward.
The ennui and resentment caused by the mandatory nature of serving two years in the army reaches a crescendo when Daffi learns that after her six-week training program, she is being sent back to Shizafon, where Zohar awaits her commands with even more apathy than she took Rama’s (who was transferred to a different base after not making her promotion in a melancholy scene in which she holds a book called Women Who Changed the World). Their contention reaches a breaking point when Daffi starts trying to delete all of the games on the computer, Minesweeper included, to get back at Zohar for her cruelty.
In the end, Zero Motivation proves that like life itself, conscription is something you can either grit your teeth through or make the most of in spite of how dull, terrible and demeaning it tends to be.