Zero Motivation (Talya Lavie, 2014): Unafraid and Absurdly Funny

as part of #52FilmsByWomen. Find the rest of this years list, here 

The little known Zero Motivation is quite possibly one of the greatest black comedies in the last ten years. Talya Lavie’s short but sweet story about a group of young women stuck out in the Israeli desert serving their two year compulsory conscription, shines a comedic light on the situation.

Whilst the circumstances that best friends Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) find themselves in may not be universally experienced, the events that take place within the film almost certainly can. One of the most interesting aspects to Zero Motivation is how unpolitical it is. If, of course, one can make a film set on a military base at the borders of Israel and it not be somewhat political. So, granted, there is a small element of politics within the film but this is merely contextual, and Lavie successfully sidesteps the political issues which may have overshadowed the remarkably simple narrative. Everyone is aware of the social tightrope that is walked every time filmmakers address the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s true that one of Lavie’s greatest feats in Zero Motivation is making a film which (geographically) situates itself very much within this conflict yet takes great measures to ensure that this is not what the film is actually about. It’s about two friends, and it’s about growing up. Two incredibly universal stories.

Zero Motivation focuses on Zohar and Daffi, best friends who are completing their compulsory conscription at the same military base. Zohar is laid back, loyal and is bloody good at minesweeper. Daffi is emotional, uptight and desperately wants to be anywhere else but where she is right now. Daffi spends her days writing letters to various military leaders and chiefs, hoping that they will transfer her to a base in Tel Aviv, where she believes her life will be changed for the better. Their friendship is threatened when it is revealed that Zohar hasn’t actually been sending Daffi’s letters as she promised she had been. Amongst a heartbroken comrade, mounting tension on the base and the prospect of an inspection of their disgusting office – Daffi and Zohar part ways. And not amicably.

On a surface level, Zohar and Daffi’s initial fight is about a guy. Zohar takes a liking to one of the men on the camp, but Daffi flirts with him hoping he will recommend her for officer training (which she thinks will then lead to a placement in Tel Aviv). It’s not a stupid fight about ‘boys’ (contrary to popular beliefs about teenage girls), their feelings go far deeper than this. Daffi is hurt that Zohar isn’t trying to help her get off the base, but she can’t see how hurt Zohar is that she wants to leave. Whilst this is going on, a young girl (Tehlia) has snuck onto the base to try and rekindle a romance with one of the soldiers. Finding him with another girl, she becomes incredibly depressed and in a bid to rid his tattooed name from her body – kills herself. The backdrop of this incredibly emotional and dramatic event only emphasises the mundanity of both Zohar and Daffi’s lives on the base – and drives a wedge further between them.

Once Daffi leaves for officers training, Zohar becomes even more disillusioned than before. The other girls in the office tease her about being the only virgin on the entire base, and though Zohar brushes these accusations off, she feels alienated. In a bizarre yet comedic scene, Zohar meets up with a soldier from off base and it seems as if Zohar might lose her virginity. The soldier becomes aggressive with her, and just when we fear the worst – Irena (who may or may not be possessed by the ghost of Tehlia), points the soldiers gun straight at his face. Before Irena’s ‘possession’ (it’s never clear whether this is just Irena messing with Zohar or whether Tehlia’s ghost is really possessing Irena), Zohar and Irena had never been the greatest of friends. It was Irena who suggested Zohar needed to get laid, so really it was her that had instigated the situation Zohar found herself in. Clearly intended for a comedic effect, watching a naked man attempting to fuck a bin whilst two young girls have a gun aimed at him, the scene still resonates with us in a deeper way than just being funny to watch. Despite Irena and Zohar’s differences, Irena essentially saves Zohar from being raped. Zero Motivation explores the idea that whether girls like one another or not, they are all on the same side of the fence and all going through the same experiences.

The same can be said for Rama, the officer in charge of the girls. Rama is desperate to prove her worth and to be promoted so that she can stay at the base. Zohar’s actions (shredding every single file in the office and stuffing the remnants into Rama’s office) means that she is let go. Though we know that Rama is in a position of authority, we see her constantly undermined by the male soldiers around her. It is Rama that must arrange for her girls to get the coffee, it Rama who is blamed for Tehlia sneaking into the camp and ultimately, Rama is dismissed despite her best efforts to prove herself.

Daffi and Zohar eventually reconcile (after what is possibly the best staple-gun fight you will ever see), though it is not without tension. It would be easy for the two of them to hug and cry about their emotions, but Lavie understands young women too much to allow that to happen. Girls can be spiteful and they can be bitchy. They can also be emotional and they can also be strong. It is possible to feel all of these things at once, and Lavie succeeds in letting both Daffi and Zohar encompass all these attributes. Igny and Tagar shine in their respective roles, both onscreen together and separately. So whilst this is truly a story of friendship, it is also a story of finding yourself and accepting what you have.

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