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The war comedy is an odd genre, considering the subject material it attempts to make humorous. When I’ve see war comedies based on the American military, I’ve often liked or disliked the movie based on what opinion of the American military it was trying to put forward. Zero Motivation mirrors the genre of military comedy, but it can often be unclear what exactly the film is trying to say in a larger context. What exactly does director Talya Lavie think of the Israeli military, and can a viewer engage with Zero Motivation without knowing?
One issue here is that the soldiers seem to mostly be battling not Palestinians or terrorists, but rather boredom. The soldiers actually do not discuss any actual military operations, and we do not learn who they are fighting specifically (though it can be guessed by anyone with any knowledge of the region’s politics). This also allows the narrative to sidestep engagement with the relative justifications or brutalities of what the IDF does. The dearth of depiction of any real military operations could mean a number of things, and again brings up the question of whether this must be hammered down for the film to be enjoyable.
Does this choice mean to speak to the often-unnecessary level of military proliferation in Israel? Most people, both supporters and critics of Israel, can probably agree that the Israeli military can go overboard to say the least. When Zero Motivation portrays the soldiers of this regional superpower as killing time with these fun-loving hijinks, does it mean to say that these soldiers are in many ways contributing to military theater more than to the realities of their state’s national security?
Alternatively, this film might not seek to comment on this issue–the actual enemy not being discussed could be the film’s way of closing off its narrative to the world outside of Israel. If that’s the case, then Zero Motivation is divorcing the military from the larger global conflicts that necessitate its considerable size and power. The intention then would be for the shenanigans of these soldiers not to be connected to the reasons for their boredom, which is a troubling outlook. After all, if this is just supposed to be an IDF romp, what critique or concrete viewpoint could be expressed here about the Israel/ Palestine conflict?
Perhaps this is the point–Lavie is trying to assert the humanity and the conviviality of these women no matter how problematic the larger systems at play in this situation are. The film could be seen as a celebration of female friendship for its own sake, asserting that these relationships are valuable even if they take place in an environment that is arguably toxic. This relates to the voices relating Zero Motivation to HBO’s Girls, as well as the sitcom M*A*S*H. Rather than seeking to make a definitive statement about the military or Israel as a country, the show is telling a story about real people, expressing what life is really like for women Israeli soldiers regardless of whether others like it. Those watching can judge for themselves, just like they do in real life.
The ending provides a clue that there is at least some critique of the Israeli military intended in this film. Some of the characters are clearly on their way up the ladder, while some of the characters are more likely to “flunk out” of the military. The environment is clearly not for everyone, which is a fact that deepens the characterizations of the women. Like in Girls, the different characters have varying levels of success in this system, and this is not only a personal failing. Fitting into any kind of system can be difficult, and often requires a relinquishment of individuality. The women who seem poised to leave the military are on equal footing in the narrative to the women who wish to continue.
All in all, Zero Motivation merits the amount of conversation that there seems to have been over the years about this film. Perhaps by refusing to come to a concrete position on the IDF, Talya Levie is attempting to force the viewer to find their own. These women seem to be having a hard time figuring out their relationship to the IDF, so perhaps it’s apt that their film also struggles in this area. The marriage of form to content is neat enough that a viewer can see this film as a statement of profound ambivalence and tedium toward the IDF, and find rich critical value in the many ways the film mirrors this perspective.
Top Photo: The soldiers in Zero Motivation live up to their film’s title.
Middle Photo: Some hijinks with a staple gun create one of the most memorable scenes.
Bottom Photo: The climax of the staple gun incident.
Photo Credit: Talya Levie.