Working for a ticketing company has it’s advantages. Sure, the customers can be frustrating, but I only paid for two shows I went to last year. The latest advantage was that everyone at the company got tickets of their choice to the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival this year. Seeing that I’m all about women driven narratives, I picked Talya Lavie’s debut feature Zero Motivation as my free ticket.
Based on her experiences in the Israeli Defense Forces, Lavie’s film is about women working in the administration of an IDF base in the desert with focus on two characters, Zohar and Daffi. I was fully expecting to review the film for my blog, but I’ll be honest, I just don’t know how. I feel like I don’t know enough about Israeli culture and criticisms of the IDF to offer a proper critique of how the film presents that aspect. It certainly didn’t feel pro, but I couldn’t tell if it was neutral or against in the long run.
What makes Zero Motivation stand out to me despite the culture barrier was the cast of characters. A lot of the actions of the under motivated clerical officers reminded me a lot of Sgt. Bilko, one of my favorite movies from my childhood. Cutting corners, insubordination, and just plain lack of work ethic. Which isn’t something you see in a lot of films about the military or in films about women. It wasn’t just that however. It was also the fact that so much of the cast was just plain selfish.
The film is focused around Zohar (Dana Ivgy), who’s wants to do as little as possible in her conscription time and to not be the only virgin on the base. Her best friend is Daffi (Nelly Tagar), who will do whatever possible to be relocated to Tel Aviv. Constantly, Zohar tries to stop her from doing this, trashing her letters and ignoring her after she goes off to officer training, claiming that it’s because friends stick together. Which Daffi is the first to remind her that sticking together is about support and not actually sticking physically around. Not that Daffi is much help to Zohar either. The cast is rounded out with Rama (Shani Klein), their commanding officer who is determined to be a lifer in the IDF, the inseparable duo of Livnat and Liat (Heli Twito and Meytal Gal), and Irena (Tamara Klingon), a half-Russian conscript who may be the most callous of them all. Most of the lines coming out of her mouth are insults to her coworkers.
Which brings me to the aspect of the film that I enjoyed the most: these women are selfish, yes, but that’s not all they are. So often in film, women don’t often get a chance to be portrayed as selfish without also being portrayed as awful or evil. Think back to any romantic comedy you’ve seen where there’s a love triangle. How often is it that one women is ‘pure’ while the selfish one is only that?
In Zero Motivation, we do see that the selfishness isn’t the only motivation of all the characters. Rama has dreamt of being an officer her whole life, Zohar is lonely, and Daffi is a crybaby who’s chasing after a better life. This doesn’t excuse their flaws, but gives a better idea of who they are as characters. Plus, even with all the insults they trade and how much they are or are not friends, there are still parts where these women have each others backs. Daffi spends an entire day teaching her “replacement” Tehila (Yonit Tobi) about her job and cries when tragedy befalls her. Zohar takes the fall for Daffi after the two have a violent fight towards the end of the film that leads to important base files being erased by the latter and Daffi pays her back for it in the end. The best scene though was probably when Irena, who had been in a strange daze for part of the film, threatens a paratrooper with an M16 rifle when he nearly rapes Zohar and then proceeds not to mention it to anyone ever again. To me, the fact Irena doesn’t become Zohar’s friend after holding her almost rapist at gunpoint was just as refreshing as the fact she actually did that. You don’t need to be someone’s best friend to recognize that a person needs help and protection.
The complicated nature of these characters made my head wrap back around to another story about complicated women that’s running right now: Bitch Planet. I hope to dig more into the story at a later date, but Bitch Planet isn’t even in the same genre wheelhouse as Zero Motivation since it’s Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro’s Atwoodian spin on women in prison films. The entire concept revolves around complicated women. We’re slowly learning more about the world as more issues release, but the quick version is that it takes place in a future where women who don’t adhere to strict societal rules about how a woman must act are marked as ‘non-compliant.’ After a certain amount of non-compliant acts (that can range anywhere from ‘follicle mutilation’ to murder), that woman is sent off to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost or “Bitch Planet.” Even with only two issues, we know that these women aren’t saints, but they’re never painted as “evil” either. Our main character Kam stands up for both Penny and Marian in the first issue alone, two women that she doesn’t even know. Violet pulls a running leap on some guards beating the shit out of Penny. Not that Penny doesn’t need much help to being with. Then there’s Meiko letting it casually slip that she used to design ships as she keeps the faith that these women can win a battle to the death. Even the one woman on the side of the prison we’ve met so far doesn’t feel so black and white. Ms. Whitney is a Georgia girl with a sweet smile and calm demeanor, but you know that there’s something lurking underneath. I’ve spent enough time around Georgia girls to know that they can hide a lot of dark shit if needed.
The point is that the slow changes in media to showing women to be the complicated human beings that they actually are is refreshing. Even more so when you show them working together instead of competing against each other to be, as Deconnick would say, the Queen of Shit Mountain. Women are selfish. Women are angry. Women are tough. Women are lonely and loud and crass, hard and soft. They’re protective. They’re abusive. Women are just as complicated as men. I should know. I’ve been one for nearly 25 years! And it’s about damn time that the stories we enjoy start to reflect that. It can’t just be Orange is the New Black out there nor should it just be. Men may call it pandering, but until the media updates itself to reflect the other half of the population, they might want to reflect on what that word actually means.