Jennifer Prediger made her directorial debut this year with collaborator Jess Weixler with their movie Apartment Troubles, now available OnDemand, iTunes, Amazon, etc. Weixler, Prediger, Megan Mullally, Will Forte and Jeffrey Tambor star in the movie. Jennifer works for Starstream Entertainment in New York City.
The Israeli desert will make you sleepy. The bright sun and dry heat zap you of all your drive. Zero Motivation begins with two young female friends napping on a bus driving through the desert, headed to God knows where with enormous backpacks, army fatigues and each other. Such is the road traveled by young Israelis, who must preform a mandatory two years of military service. Best buddies Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) ride along snoozing and listening to one headset, their connection captured in the sharing of earbuds.
The two Hebrew-speaking 18-year-olds reminded me of my skinnier, swarthier young self. Watching them stirred up fragments, memories of optimism and being lost. Life itself feels compulsory at that age. You can’t go over it, you just have to go through it.
There’s something metaphorically universal about a two-year military requirement, the purgatory of it. Just switch out the army for high school or a wretched summer camp or your first terrible job after college.
My first job out of college was at a small advertising agency. (It wasn’t exactly the Israeli Army, but my bosses had once briefly lived in Tel Aviv.) I was the receptionist who sat by a phone that didn’t ring, waiting to greet the one person who every four days came to pay a visit. When not at my post, I could be found crying while photocopying or making coffee.
This is the life of the girls in Zero Motivation, whose enthusiasm for their situation is encapsulated in the title. They’re young, cute, apathetic paper-pushers. I caught myself thinking, “This is like if Orange is the New Black were switched to olive drab and given a much bleaker sense of humor.” (There’s even an actress in the movie who’s the Israeli doppelgänger of Natasha Lyonne.)
Like the main characters on Netflix’s popular prison show, these young ladies are stuck in the purgatory of a penal institution. But for our female soldiers, it’s more of a penile institution. There are dicks everywhere. (Sorry, but it’s kind of true.)
In the Israeli Army —like many other parts of life — it’s a man’s world, here shown from a dark and playful feminine point of view. Most of the officers are men. The central female officer in the film is in charge of these girlish ne’er-do-wells whose most important job is delivering coffee to their male superiors (which we see in surprisingly sublime slow-motion with classical music). One clever shot frames the butts of BFs Zohar and Daffi as they place coffees in front of each officer and we see the higher-ups looking lower down. (They may be officers, but they’re no gentlemen.)
Hollaback! But Talya Lavie skewers not only men but women too. “You want to transfer because the desert dries out your hair,” says the female officer to her soldier. The movie deftly takes on the dangerous naiveté in young women and the confusing boundaries around love and sex.
But back to the dicks. Men who take advantage of women for sex alone using false emotional pretense, men who objectify women, and rapists — all of them have it coming here. At one point, a would-be rapist is stopped by a female soldier with a military-issue gun. I’d tell you how, but that would spoil the fun. I know. I shouldn’t refer to a rape scene as fun, but there’s such a great moment of vigilante justice that’s both punitive and comedic. Lavie skillfully uses black humor in way that doesn’t take anything away from the seriousness of the crime.
So who are you, Talya Lavie? And how did you get this way? Your writing and directing capture the surreal and the absurd while making social commentary in such a dry, funny way. I find myself wondering, whatever made you this way? If it was military service, then where do I sign up?
Unlike the characters in her movie, Lavie is motivated. She also has some serious lady balls. I mean, what filmmaker among us is daring enough to choose a title starting with the letter Z? Z-people have real fire. If this movie had been made in the United States, it would probably have been called American Motivation. Actually, I would love to see the American version of this film.
To the entertainment powers that be, can we please bring Talya here to New York City or possibly even Los Angeles? And not just because I want to be an earbud-sharing friend of hers, but because I want her over here making a television show in an office filled with women who only push paper when they’re writing scripts.