Let’s face it! There is a very strong sense that Israel today is a society that men largely dominate. We certainly see this in the majority of Israeli films, and in various other aspects of Israeli life.
We looked at photographs and films from earlier times, showing men and women working side by side in the field or defending the country together, weapons in hand. Today, we are treated to stories of Israeli women pilots and tank commanders. But what percentage of pilots and commanders are women? Do men and women soldiers walk side by side through the streets of Gaza?
And how many Israeli film directors are women? Are they challenging the system and asking tough questions? First-time feature film director Talya Lavie has stepped up and taken on that task in her new film, “Zero Motivation.” Her mission seems to be to tell a different story about women in the Israel Defense Forces.
Ms. Lavie’s film focuses on three women who are “jobnikim,” pencil-pushers in the human resources office of an army base in the south of Israel. Two of these women, Zohar and Daffi, played by Dana Ivgy and Nelly Trager, are close friends who fend for each other, at least as the film opens. The other key character is their senior officer Rama, played by Shani Klein, who aspires to climb the ranks, and who eats her way to ever expanding obesity. The fun begins when Zohar and Daffi arrive back at camp after a weekend leave and we meet the unit. While the base seems to be buzzing with productive activity, all the women seem to be doing is playing video games, singing pop songs, shredding paper, and preparing coffee. Is that all that women in Israel’s armed forces do? And although Rama may sit with all the male officers at a staff briefing, it becomes clear that her only role there is to make sure that refreshments are brought to the table in a timely manner. Is this really the way it is?
“Zero Motivation” is Ms. Lavie’s attempt to satirize a woman’s mandatory military service in the IDF. Ms. Lavie spent her own time in the army as a secretary. In a meeting in Soho last week, she spoke about nearly dying of boredom during that time. She wanted to provide a more realistic account of what IDF service is like, mixing the extraordinary with the mundane, slapstick with heartbreak. To be sure, there are fun moments, like when the Russian-born soldier believes she has seen a ghost, or when Zohar rearranges the office filing system. At the same time, there is the grim, as when a woman smuggles herself onto the base to seek out her boyfriend, only to find him with someone else, or when once-close friends turn on each other. Truth or not, Ms. Lavie’s depiction is tough and biting.
I cannot say enough about Dana Ivgy and Shani Klein’s acting. Ms. Ivgy excels at playing a brat. She is at one moment innocent, Daffi’s best friend, and at another Daffi’s greatest foe and evil personified. She plays her part with incredible skill. Ms. Klein does remarkable work as the clueless officer who cannot catch a break. She certainly gets no respect!
Talya Lavie studied filmmaking at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem and spent the next few years writing television dramas and making short films. She worked on “Zero Motivation” while she was a participant at the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Lab, and she both wrote and directed the film. “Zero Motivation” won the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in the spring.
“Zero Motivation” is not your average film. If you are ready to both laugh and cry and if you can handle the satire, it is a film worth seeing. Certainly Talya Lavie has a new and original take on Israeli army life. The film is playing at Film Forum in Manhattan through December 16.