“Zero Motivation” explores how a total lack of interest in accomplishing goals neither guarantees nor denies the likelihood of success. Director and screenwriter Talya Lavie’s debut film chronicles three female administrative officers as they attempt to stimulate excitement in their lives, only to find themselves sinking deeper into the quicksand of banality. Painfully hilarious and truthful, “Zero Motivation” not only examines the feeling of hopelessness but also analyzes human reactions when things do not go according to plan.
Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tavar) are best friends who work at a secluded Israeli combat base. While this may sound exciting, their primary responsibilities include pushing paper and doing menial desk work. The women feel alienated from the rest of their colleagues, but their shared love of the computer game Minesweeper solidifies a deep bond between the two. Both play the game for hours, secretly dreaming of leading a different life.
Zohar and Daffi may be very apathetic toward the rest of the world, but their introversion and love for one pointless game lead to a genuine friendship. They often retire to their desks, either pretending to do something substantial or playing more Minesweeper.
Already anticipating months of boring labor as office paper shredders, they both decide to make a change. Daffi desperately wants to get transferred to Tel Aviv — she pretends to be allergic to sand just so that she can experience the thrill of living and working in a city.
Meanwhile, Zohar, who spent her childhood in a kibbutz, is still a virgin and desperate to get her cherry popped. Although she already has an eye for a tall and handsome officer — who may or may not reciprocate her feelings — Zohar’s insecurity restrains her from getting what she wants. Zohar and Daffi’s friendship, combined with their incompetence at work, acts as a hindrance to their office manager, Rama (Shani Klein), who craves a promotion in the patriarchal workplace.
After having an argument with Zohar that briefly ends their friendship, Daffi enlists in officer training in the hopes of getting reassigned to Tel Aviv. While Daffi is gone, an upset Zohar decides to be more aggressive in her pursuit of the opposite sex. But after awkwardly asking a soldier out, Zohar realizes that she is totally unprepared to dive into the chaotic game of sex and dating.
Lavie breaks the film into the three stories of Zohar, Daffi and Rama, with each narrative fleshing out the characters just enough to make them interesting and relatable. Their failures become the unkind punchlines of “Zero Motivation”’s many jokes, which immediately puts the audience in their corner. It is easy to root for them, but their self-inflicted defeat often becomes tiring. Through these characters, Lavie attempts to send a message about how female existence is stifled by patriarchal normativity in the workplace.
“Zero Motivation” suggests a lot of philosophical and relevant topics, but it drops them as soon as it requires intensive work to go deeper and elaborate on these arguments. It could have taken a different path to addressing gender inequality, which the film is ostensibly about, but the message is convoluted by the different characters.
That’s not to say that the film is dull; Lavie disproves this as her ingenuity echoes throughout the film’s tedium-induced quirks. When Daffi threatens to delete the sturdiest backbone of the bond she shared with Zohar — aka Minesweeper — the act results in one of the most epic and uproarious battles in cinematic history.
“Zero Motivation” is a true testament to the vast and creative results boredom can produce by pushing the mind and body to their limits while also serving as a great tale of friendship. But as Zohar and Daffi learn, sometimes dealing with problems on your own — without any help from a friend — can be greatly rewarding.
“Zero Motivation” opens today at the UC Theater in Berkeley.
Contact Majick Tadepa at [email protected].