I went to military school for four years, and it sucked the whole time. There were kids there who embraced it, and turned from ritalin-snorting criminals into pillars of military discipline, but I never fit that narrative– I was a nerd who snuck books into mandatory football games, and I hated pretty much everything about that place. Often, I would get in trouble, and be forced to stand at attention and get lectured about a whole bunch of things I didn’t give a crap about.
Zohar, the main character of Israeli military office comedy Zero Motivation, is a perfect distillation of what would be running through my head during those dressing downs. Zohar doesn’t care about any aspect of being in the military or working her administrative file clerk job, and she doesn’t care so hard that her not-caringness burns with a white hot rage. She’s what would happen if Catch-22’s Yossarian and Cool Hand Luke had a daughter that was cast in a female buddy comedy. I think I’m in love.
Set in an Israeli military base isolated in the middle of a barren desert, Zero Motivation follows lead characters Zohar and her best friend Daffi, two women who work in the base’s personnel office and loath every aspect of being in the military and their boring office. Daffi dreams of being transferred to glamorous Tel Aviv, but Zohar just wants to be left alone to play Minesweeper all day. Their motivated boss Rama and the rest of the military want them to straighten up and get in line. That’s the plot of every military comedy ever, but there’s something different about this one. For one thing, Zero Motivation blends multiple styles of comedy in a way few films do. Sometimes it’s a black comedy, with one character so traumatized by another’s death that she falls into a ridiculous fugue state, putting on her lipstick like clown make-up. Other times it’s more slapstick, with bloody staple gun fights and office pranks, and characters ribbing each other about their virginity.
The fact that Zero Motivation is a movie about rebellion is weird, because though it’s about a military base, it’s not about war at all. Though several characters in this movie say that Israel is at war, there’s nothing about combat in this film at all. There is a character who dies bloodily, but she is a civilian, and she dies by suicide. There is a near rape, but it takes place between soldiers on the same side (and ends with the aggressor forced at gunpoint to fuck a trashcan). As far as I can remember no one mentions Palestine or Palestinians at all. Zohar is a character making a stand, but her “ideals” have nothing to do with peace or brotherhood or any of the loaded questions that pop into the head of an American sitting down to watch a movie about the Israeli army.
Though the premise makes the movie sound like Stripes meets the Office, there’s a core of fatalism and an anger to Zohar that gives her antics a different tone than either of those. She will do almost anything to avoid having to do stuff she doesn’t want to do, even if it means ruining her co-worker’s career or doing jail time. If the final scene of Thelma and Louise was a grumpy Israeli lady who wanted to play video games all day, it would be Zohar. Watch this movie.