Who’d of thunk that the women’s training sector of the Israeli military would be a lot like high school? Cat fights, cliques, and general snarkiness are all par for the course. Moody Daffi (Nelly Tagar) would like nothing more than dispose of her uniform in favor of serving coffee at the Tel Aviv, but her service is mandatory, which means that she’s pretty much screwed until her senior officer Rama (Shani Kein) decides she can go. Daffi’s bestie Zohar (Dana Ivgy, star of the heartbreaking Or, My Treasure) tries her best to keep Daffi’s spirits afloat, but several differences of opinion turn the two friends into the bitterest of enemies.
Zero Motivation is broken into three ‘stories’- one about a girl on the base’s suicide, another on Zohar’s self-consciousness about her virginity, and the third about a power shift between the two friends and the epic falling-out and stapling-gun war that ensues. The film seems to suffer from uncertainty about what genre it belongs in; sometimes it seems to be making a valiant attempt as a comedy, but it lacks much of the requisite mirth and humor; other times it comes off as dark and even depressing (as with the bloody suicide of a lovesick girl (Yonit Tobi) who was passing off as a soldier to get the attention of a boy who was, as they say, ‘just not that into her’ in the film’s first segment.)
I think I should be able to relate to these people, as a world-class slacker, but the characters lack likability. This is not the fault of the cast members, who are very good- it’s just that the protagonists (except Daffi, who seems pretty sweet for all her drama) take bitchiness to a whole new level. Sometimes their bile is funny, but mostly not so much. I guess this is kind of the point; to humanize the military in far away countries that people generally picture as dramatic or extreme by portraying their raucous, even silly set-backs and foibles. And the film is not a bad effort by a long shot.
But there’s a crisis of tone at play here, as evidenced by the scene where the Daffi and Zohar beat the living shit out of each other when Daffi threatens to delete her former friend’s much-loved collection of online games from the military PC. The situation is absurd, and I guess they’re going for comedy, but by the end the girls are full of staples from a staple-gun attack and bloody. Not only that, but one girl tries to actually strangle the other with a length of cord. So, it’s a bit too dark to be slapstick, but is it supposed to be dramatic? (we’ve got to remember that the fight was over some video games, which is ridiculousness if I ever saw it.)
Is Zero Motivation a comedy? An attempt at dark and cynical absurdity? A drama with humorous elements? In the end, it’s just so hard to tell. I found myself chuckling a few times, but other times it seemed astonishingly dark but didn’t have the seriousness to be a drama. I love black comedies if they’re done right, but I’m just not sure this one is. Ultimately it’s just a curiosity (albeit a well-acted and competently written one) about raging estrogen and histrionic back-stabbing in a military facility for women. Which is not in of itself funny.
There is, however, some interesting political and social context to this movie, like the patriarchal hierarchy the male soldiers inflict on the women, refusing to listen to their opinions, enlisting them to fix them nibbles at staff meetings; and surreptitiously ogling shapely female asses when the women come to bring them said nibbles. We see how hard it is to be taken seriously as a woman in the military; you kind of have to be mean; as Rama the perpetually angry and overlooked officer well knows. It is in these moments that the film really excels; showing us how unappreciated women who choose to be soldiers are, whether it be here, there, or anywhere.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that 99% of the men in this movie are huge dicks. This Borderline display of misandry might frustrate male viewers, but to be fair, the male characters are a minority here, as the film focuses on femininity and how the women balance it in a job dominated by men, and men annoyingly mired in their own machismo at that. Just like I imagine it would be hard to be a female cop; especially an attractive one (if you’re a female officer and unattractive, it’s easier to blend in and become one of the guys.)
Zero Motivation is not a movie without value, it just could have done so much more with it’s intriguing premise. When all is said and done, it feels a little lightweight, which is a shame. it could have been great. However, it still worth watching for buffs of multicultural films that look at social issues in a slightly skewed way, if not for those in search for a laugh-until-you-cry comedy.