The Arty Semite

The Most Boring Job in the Army

By Anna Goldenberg

  • Print
  • Share Share

Movies about the army are usually about fighting, sacrifice, a tense atmosphere and people in uniform plotting war strategies. “Zero Motivation,” the first feature film by Israeli director Talya Lavie, shows a different aspect of military life: Set in an army base in the Israeli desert in 2004, it tells the story of a group of girls who spend their compulsory military service doing office work. Far removed from the frontlines and decision-making, Zohar (Dana Ivgy), her best friend Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and the other girls have time to worry about issues such as breaking the Minesweeper record on all of the office’s computers, dating male fellow soldiers and engaging in petty power struggles with their officer Rama (Shani Klein).

One day, a new arrival puts the friendship between potty-mouthed Zohar and fragile Daffi on trial, and events take a turn toward the turbulent.

The coming-of-age-tragicomedy had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17, and will be released in Israeli cinemas in June. Director Lavie, who was born in 1978 in Petah Tikvah, Israel, first studied animation at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design before attending the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, both in Jerusalem. She won several international awards for her thesis short film, “The Substitute,” which is also about young female soldiers in office jobs.

Like the characters in her film, Lavie was stationed in the desert during her army service. It was the contrast between the beauty of the desert and the aesthetics of the army that served as an inspiration for the movie, she told the Forward. She also talked about how her film reflects changes in gender-segregation in the army, and how hard it was to balance comical and tragic aspects of the movie.

Anna Goldenberg: How much of this movie is based on your own experience?

Talya Lavie: My own experiences are just inspiration. It’s not based on real events or real people but it’s inspired by real feelings and a real environment. While working on the film, my own experiences became more and more distant, and I researched a lot. I talked to a lot of girls.

Did these girls have any experiences in common?

There are some common experiences, but each one is different. Each one was stationed elsewhere, in a different part of the army, in a different unit. Most of your experiences are regarding the people you are stationed with. It’s a story about people, first of all, and about this group: Each of the girls is coming from elsewhere, from different parts of society, and they are all sitting together in one office.

Where were you stationed?

I was also in a base in the desert. Actually, one of my big inspirations was the desert. I like it a lot … The fact that it’s isolated and has constantly changing weather changes something in the proportion. And also, I think the scenery of the desert is beautiful and sometimes even divine. I want to put it in contrast with the aesthetics of the army. It’s something you can always see in American army films, and it creates something that I really liked a lot cinematically.

In the film, only women were doing office jobs. Does this reflect gender-segregation in army posts?

In the past 10 years, they have been trying to change that, and you can see some of those changes happening in the film. [For example] you can see that the girls are trying to do guarding [of the facilities]. This is something that starts to happen there. There are men in secretarial jobs, but in the film, I wanted to show just the women. It does not show the entire reality, because there are men in secretarial jobs, and also, there are women in combat. But it was my choice to have only women in the film.

Because of the group dynamics?

Yes, that kind of dynamic is something that I really experienced. It is so “not important,” as you can see in the film — always something bigger happened. They are the people in the background. I wanted to put them in the front.

When I saw those girls in the office jobs, I couldn’t help but think that this is just a waste of their time.

You might say, yes, some of the girls are wasting their time, but it’s not a message of the film because I don’t think you can really waste your time. If you are a person who wastes his time, you will waste it anywhere, also in college. And if you are a person who does something with yourself, you will always learn something.

Did working on this change how you thought about your own experience?

I wrote the script from the place I’m in now. I used my emotions at that moment. It’s not like I go back in time. You know, the army is just a platform to tell the relationship story, the emotional story. Also, after the army, you find yourself in other frames, which can put you in some situations [like in the army] which put your friendship at trial.

You studied animation before you went to film school…

It was interesting because until then I was always working alone, making my own characters and doing all the roles. And then you discover the world of working with people. You need to learn a lot…

What was the most challenging lesson you had to learn?

To be understood. You know this song, “oh God, please don’t let me be misunderstood”? That’s the big difference between doing animation the way I did it, and doing film. And the biggest challenge [in “Zero Motivation”] was maintaining the tone of the film. It’s juggling a little bit between comedy — some real nonsense comedy because [the girls] are goofing around — to some really hard, dramatic parts, and painful stuff. I felt like an acrobat in a circus walking on thin rope, trying not to fall to any side … I had to deal with it through the entire filmmaking, from the script, the casting, the art design, the filming, the editing, the music, and until the design of the fonts [on the poster].

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zero Motivation, Tribeca Film Festival, Talya Lavie, Interviews, Film

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.