Monday, December 1, 2014

Zero Motivation opens Wednesday

Every year at Tribeca there always seems to be one film that everyone sees and reviews. This year that film seemed to be Zero Motivation a military comedy from Israel about women in the clerk section of on a base in the middle of the desert trying to get reassigned to the big city. John, Mondo and myself all saw the film and wrote it up in one form or another.

With the film opening Wednesday in theaters (the Film Forum here in New York) here’s John’s take on the film:

Zero Motivation bursts a few pop culture conventional wisdom balloons before it's even ten minutes into the film. It's an office comedy about life in the Human Resources Department on an Israeli military based, an office staffed by young women who are eager either to use it as a stepping stone in their careers or to get it over and done with as quickly as possible.

'Hello? Hello? Hello? Geez, nobody ever answer me and still this phone hurts like crazy.'

The blend of military, comedy, and movie is a rare one. The office comedy (give or take an Office Space or two), is usually the domain of the half-hour TV sitcom, rather than the movies. The military comedies (with the exception of Larry Gelbart's long-running M*A*S*H series) are generally genial, lightweight affairs like Hogan's Heroes, Gomer Pyle: USMC or McHale's Navy. In this, her first feature film, director and screenwriter Talya Lavie deftly walks the tightrope of these familiar tropes to produce a fresh and original comedy that's decidedly black and bittersweet and at the same time full of heart and friendship.

'No, no, no, the OTHER, whatever.'

Military comedies almost always focus on the oddballs and misfits and.Zero Motivation is no exception, focusing on dour duo Daffi (the base's Paper & Shredding non-com, spiritlessly shredding one piece of paper at a time out of a massive stack) and Zohar (Postal NCO), who has intercepted Daffi's frequent written requests to be transferred to a Tel Aviv base. "Come on, Daffi," urges Zohar in the opening scene. "We'll have some laughs - we'll set the new Minesweeper record." Rama, their by-the-book commanding officer, can't get them in line either though honey or vinegar. Three sequential interconnected vignettes spotlight each of the women seemingly unobtainable goals to escape from the camp with dignity, and how the whole system is derailed by the arrival of a new non-com, Tahila. Daffi introduces Tahila to everyone as her replacement in the office, and the first act suffers from the anticipation that her excited belief is, a little too obviously, setting her up for a fall. But Tahila supplies the film's catalyst in a dark twist, ratcheting up the tension and kicking the plot into place, at the same time bringing out some fine serious and comic performances from its immensely talented cast. Dana Igvy as Zohar especially stands out with a lustrous glower and her glum pessimism mined with a sharp comic timing.

How Not to Be Seen, lesson 12.

Fine performances, well-staged set pieces, savage and sharp catfight insults, and the somber desert-and-khaki color palette give Zero Motivation a bite beyond its plot summary. and it's the first film I've ever seen that sets up a pair of heavy-duty staplers set up to literally become Chekhov's guns. I fear its probable English-language American remake - aside the essential backdrop of mandatory Israeli military service, I can't picture that Hollywood would ever do justice to this dark and funny, clevely nuanced story. While Zero Motivation isn't of the caliber of classic military comedies movies like M*A*S*H or Catch-22, it's both highly entertaining and thought-provoking, and you'll be cheering for each of the leads to get what they desire most, even though life, especially in the desert and in the military, never tends to work out that way.

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