If There’s a Staple Gun in the First Act…:Zero Motivation

12/03/2014 4:00 AM |
Photo courtesy of Zeitgeist Films


Zero Motivation
Directed by Talya Lavie
Opens December 3 at Film Forum

When Sam Mitnick, one of Keith Gessen’s Sad Young Literary Men, travels to Israel to write his great Zionist novel, he instead arrives—prompted by a freewheeling IDF tank—at the realization that the Palestinians may be idiots, but the Israelis are fuckers, “and when Sam saw an idiot faced with his natural enemy, the fucker, he knew whose side he was on.” Talya Lavie’s Bored Young Military Women embrace being idiots and fuckers both, though they’re all young Israelis doing punishingly monotonous mandatory service in the admin office of a desert base. Lavie says she channeled classics of military malaise like M*A*S*H and Catch-22 when she was writing and directing her first feature, but the film quickly marches into Full Metal Jacket territory: it’s all pranks and paper shredders until a jilted fling takes a boxcutter into the bath.

The thick streak of blood on the barracks floor gets mopped, but Daffi (Nelly Tagar), so incompetent she’s been designated the Paper & Shredding NCO, desperately wants a transfer to Tel Aviv, the urban oasis of her dreams (in which she rocks green fatigues above black stilettos: that’s how deeply the pointlessness has penetrated). Daffi’s best friend Zohar (Dana Igvy), unwilling to serve the rest of her time alone with frustrated careerist Rama (Shani Klein) and stone-faced Russian Irena (Tamara Klingon), sabotages Daffi’s efforts in the first act, but spends the second solo anyway, while Irena offers unhelpful commentary. ‘I used to be in the West, and now I’m here,’ Irena says derisively. Here is a place hermetic and surreal, where Zohar dreams of losing her virginity while signing for an M16, a canteen date cracks Holocaust jokes, combat is limited to Minesweeper, and the most closely guarded military secret is the precise location of the staple gun.

It’s this airless, hopeless hermeticism—a greenhouse where personal frustrations bloom into violence and vengeance—that’s Lavie’s concern here. And it’s a valid one (not that a critical imprimatur is required for a filmmaker to pursue her interests). It makes for a painfully funny movie, too, in on the biggest, saddest joke: “You realize,” one character asks, indignant, “that we’re here to serve the system?”