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Film / Zero Motivation

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Zero Motivation (originally Éfes beYakhasèy EnóshHebrew , ‘Zero in Human Relations’) is a 2014 Israeli black dramedy film directed by Talya Levie that is her debut movie, starring Dana Ivgy and Nelly Tagar. It depicts the lives of female Israeli soldiers conscripted into the Israeli Defense Forces, and centers on The Slacker Zohar, and her best friend Daffi, who are serving out their two years in the military by holding ridiculously simple and pointless jobs as "Postal NCO" and "Paper and Shredding CEO", respectively. They work alongside grumpy Russian Israeli Irena, Those Two Girls Liat and Livnat, and are bossed around by ambitious careerist Rama.

Divided into three chapters, the first part of the film features Zohar, Daffi, and the other soldiers returning to Shizafon, their (real life) military base in the middle of nowhere. Daffi has been trying for ages to get transferred to the Kirya, where she hopes life will be less boring and more comfortable. There's also a new recruit, Tehila, who may not be what she claims to be. The second part deals with Zohar’s agony over still being a virgin while everyone around her already isn’t, and her quest to pop her cherry. In the third part, Daffi finishes her officer training and is now in charge of Zohar, a change Zohar does not welcome.


Zero Motivation was the bestselling Israeli film of 2014, was nominated for twelve Ophir Awards and won six, as well as Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival. Lavie also won the Nora Ephron Prize given to female writers and directors.

This film provides examples of:

  • Armed Farces: Obviously, since it takes place in the military and at an army base. A lot of the film's humor comes from satirizing dead-end tasks that are elevated to Serious Business, and how soldiers have to get creative about finding ways to kill time and stay sane.
  • Attempted Rape: Zohar goes on a date with Meir and is really excited that she's finally going to lose her virginity, but tries to back out when Meir is too rough and tries to rape her. Luckily for Zohar, Irena was there to pick up Meir's gun and make him stop.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • In Daffi’s case:
    • In Zohar’s case: praying for a guy, even if average-looking, to come along, as long as he was into her, and getting a rapist.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Meir. He seems like a sweet and kind guy who really cares about Zohar, but then ignores her pleas to be more gentle when they're about to have sex and almost rapes her.
  • Bungled Suicide: Played for Laughs. Daffi, in a state of despair after Tehila’s suicide, tries using one of the stapler guns. It has no staples. She tries the white-out, but she’s all out. She tries another vial (casually given to her by Liat), but Rama interrups her at the last second to give her another load of work, oblivious to what she’s doing.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Eitan gave his time with Tehila much less thought than she did. When she finds out, she does not take it well at all.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The stapler guns, reappearing for the fight between Daffi and Zohar.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Inverted—it’s Daffi’s lack of computer skills, commented on by Zohar early in the film, that makes her delete the records on the computers in the office instead of the Minesweeper records.
  • Crying Wolf: Rama doesn’t believe Zohar when she tells her she was almost raped and killed because she found out she lied about taking Irena to the infirmary.
  • Cultural Posturing: Zohar the kibbutznik and Irena the Russian immigrant often do this to each other.
  • Cute and Psycho: Tehila steals a soldier’s ID and impersonated a soldier (an offence punishable by three years in prison in Israel) to be with Eitan, and kills herself when she realised he hasn’t given her as much thought as she has given him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Irena, for the first part of the film.
  • Deconstruction: Meir deconstructs the Israeli combatant soldier ideal, specifically the combatant’s soldier’s higher place in the IDF hierarchy and his sexual vigour and desirability. As combatant soldiers often are, Meir has been pent up for a while now, and when he gets the chance to sleep with Zohar, he completely ignores her request to go gentle, and makes a mean-spirited jab at ‘desk jockeys’ instead.
  • Demonic Possession: Played with. Irena sleeps on the bed where Tehila killed herself and ends up seeing Tehila’s ghost, who seems to possess her. Irena, usually an assertive Deadpan Snarker, spends a large part of the film as if in a trance, speaking in a monotone and being very weird, with brief intervals of better functioning, and fully leaving her trance after she stops Meir from raping Zohar. Word Of God says that it’s up to the viewer to decide whether Irena really was possessed or if she’s just pretending.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Zohar does it to her superiors twice for punishing her for her terrible work ethic and disrespectful attitude: she shreds all the paper in the office to get back at Rama for increasing her load work (after she shirked her fair share), and prints Daffi’s letters en masse and posts them on the walls all over the base to get back at Daffi, who’s been trying to assert herself as Zohar’s superior after getting assigned Rama’s job.
  • Driven to Suicide: After sneaking onto the base disguised as a soldier to find her boyfriend, Tehila learns that he's pretty much forgotten about her and already has a new girlfriend, prompting her to take her own life.
  • Escalating War: Between Daffi and Zohar, after Daffi becomes Zohar’s commander. Zohar’s adamant refusal to listen to her superior (and the poor example she sets for her colleagues) winds up getting Daffi to take stronger measures against her, including making the punishments she gets collective punishments. Zohar responds by printing and pasting Daffi’s letters all over the base, and Daffi in turn tries to delete the games off the computers in the base, leading to the stapler gunfight and the mass deletion of files off the computers.
  • Exact Words: Rama asks Zohar to get rid of the stain on her uniform. Zohar is angered and finds it demeaning, so she cuts the stain out with a pair of scissors, citing Rama’s wording as her defence.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Subverted. Irena saves Zohar from getting raped, but has no intention of sticking by her after that when Rama grills her for lying and avoiding work.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Liat and Livnat sing Asaf Amdurski’sMy Dear’, a song about a man looking forward to reuniting with a lover he’s left for a period of time longer than he’d planned, quickly followed by Monica Sex’sWounds and Kisses’, about a man leaving a destructive, dishonest relationship, both parties of which have now lost their innocence; shortly afterwards, Tehila discovers the man she was madly into hasn’t given all that much thought to his time with her and had a new girlfriend, having falsely implied otherwise for some time. After her suicide but before it’s discovered, they sing Rachel Bluwstein’sA Melancholic Melody’, about a woman waiting for a long-lost lover, which includes the line ‘My final day might be nigh’note . In addition, Bluwstein also wrote ‘And Maybe It Never Was So...’, in which she wonders if the time she’d spent living next to her beloved Sea of Galilee (specifically, at Dganya Alef), which she was kicked out of for her tuberculosis, might have been All Just a Dream.
    • Rama asks Zohar to get rid of the stain on her uniform. Zohar is angered at having to do this, finding it demeaning, and when Rama asks her what’s going on with it, she holds up Rama’s uniform and a pair of scissors, saying, ‘We’re working on it.’ When she checks again, she finds a hole where the stain was.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Zohar’s attempts at seducing Meir. Being a combatant soldier, Meir hasn’t had a chance to get his rocks off in a while, and when he gets a chance, he refuses to hold back and be gentle, and Irena stops him just short of raping her.
    Meir: You want to do it gently? Find yourself a desk jockey.note 
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Daffi’s attempt at deleting the games off the computers goes so bad she deletes everything but the games.
  • Heroic BSoD: Irena volunteers to sleep in ‘the empty bed’ (i.e. the bed they found Tehila’s dead body in) to stop the other girls’ argument. She winds up seeing Tehila’s ghost in bed with her and possibly getting possessed by her. Until...
  • He's Back!: Irena snaps out of her Heroic BSoD just in time to save Zohar from getting raped.
  • Ironic Echo: Zohar tells Daffi that she never sent the letters asking for Daffi’s transfer, she tells her that no-one would have given them any notice, and she was ‘just sparing [her] the humiliation’. Shortly after, when Zohar sees Daffi chatting up the soldier she was into, she tells her the same.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Rama gets mad a lot, shouts at the girls she's in charge of, and piles tons of work onto them, but the fact is that there is a lot of work to be donenote  and the office is nowhere near as productive as it should be. It’s particularly bad in this case, because while Rama’s skills and achievements are well noted, this inefficiency costs her the promotion, as she’s seen as incapable of getting along and controlling her subordinates.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Liat and Livnat sing fairly grim songs at a strangely upbeat tempo.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Meir, when Irena stops him right before he rapes Zohar.
  • Malicious Misnaming:
    • The girls call Shizafon ‘Shibazon’, basically a portmanteau of its name and shvizútHebrew  (Hebrew slang for, essentially, ‘despair and defeatedness’, only fairly vulgar).note 
    • Rama angrily says the Adjutant Corps’ (shalishútHebrew ) office is known in the base as shalishúk; this is a Portmanteau of shalishut and shukHebrew  (lit. ‘market’, also used figuratively to mean ‘chaotic vulgarity’). Daffi says that this is what they’re called in every base.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Irena’s Demonic Possession.
  • Meaningful Name: Daffi is a bit daffy.
  • Mistaken for Misogynist: Rama asks her superior if she was denied her promotion because she’s a woman. He tells her the person who did get the promotion instead is a woman too.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Not that extreme, but when Eitan’s girlfriend tries to console Tehila, offering a glass of water and a chat outside, Tehila tries to assault her.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Irena stops functioning and loses her Deadpan Snarker approach, the change is so radical and jarring that the girls think she might have been possessed by Tehila’s ghost.
  • Serious Business:
    • The dull office tasks the girls perform are treated as though they're important and complex jobs, and everyone discusses the staple guns as though they’re nuclear weapons. There are only two of them in the office, they're hidden carefully to prevent them being stolen, and they get used as weapons by Daffi and Zohar during a big hilarious fight.
    • The Minesweeper records. When Daffi intends to delete them, Zohar threatens her with a stapler gun, and it quickly escalates into a stapler gunfight.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Zohar is the only girl on the base who's still a virgin, and she tries desperately to lose her virginity.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Rama enforces this about the incident when Zohar shredding all the files in the office.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Daffi going through officer training, which she was certain would get her to the Kirya, lands her back in her original office, with an extended service as a commissioned officer, doing Rama’s old job. Subverted, as after the massive file deletion fiasco, she gets ‘demoted’ and transferred to the Kirya—although even that is not good enough for her.
  • The Slacker: Zohar only does work when Rama yells at her to do something, and usually performs a half-ass job. She spends virtually all her time playing Minesweeper, FreeCell, and other games, and doing anything that isn’t work. Rama’s inability to get her to shape up costs her the promotion she was after.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Tsakhi, the head of the computerisation project (which required three months of work), is utterly infuriated and lashes out at Zohar for deleting all the files (although she was actually Taking the Heat). When they happen to meet again at the infirmary after she has a mental breakdown, he comes at her to strangle her... but it quickly de-escalates into sex.
  • Spoiled Brat: Daffi. It’s the reason she wants to move to the Kirya, and she gets called on it by Rama and Zohar. At the end of the film, even the comfortable job at the Kirya is not enough for her.
  • Straight Gay: The soldier giving the soldiers on watch duty their stations, as Zohar finds out when she makes a crude pass at him.
  • Taking the Heat: After Daffi tries deleting the games Zohar relies on to keep from going insane but ends up deleting all the files of soldiers at the base, Zohar tells the authorities that it was all her fault, sparing Daffi from major punishment.
  • They Just Dont Get It: Tehila didn’t quite get the hint when Eitan’s mother told her he’s home, then changed her version immediately after and said he wasn’t.
  • Took a Level in Badass: This happened to Daffi after she went through officer training. She came back to the base as a somewhat tougher and more assertive person.
    • Subverted, because she doesn't handle the change well at all, and by the end of the movie she happily accepts a demotion so she can get transferred to the Kirya.
  • Unishment: Zohar loathes the boredom at the kibbutz, and it seems she cares so little about cleaning up her act because ‘not going home on the weekend’ is the standard punishment given in the IDF.
    • Also the case with Daffi, who was technically demoted but also given the transfer she so desperately wanted.
  • Unluckily Lucky:
    • Zohar shredding all the paper in the office is a massive setback to the office and the base, but it provides an opportunity to move the system to computers instead. Then Daffi accidentally deletes all the files on it, and they’re in serious trouble, because all the back-up has been shredded.
    • Daffi finishes officer training and is sent back to her old office, where she has to serve even longer, but the massive file deletion fiasco means she gets ‘demoted’ and sent to the Kirya, but then she decides she doesn’t like it there.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Irena gives this advice to Zohar. When she’s all to eager to follow suit, it almost gets her raped.