Female misfits in the Israeli army

Zero Motivation stars Nelly Tagar (left) and Dana Ivgy as unlikely buddies in the Israeli army.
Zero Motivation stars Nelly Tagar (left) and Dana Ivgy as unlikely buddies in the Israeli army.PHOTO: ISRAEL FILM FESTIVAL

When women are conscripted into the military with the men, a funny thing happens. Actually, several funny things happen, as seen in the Israeli drama-comedy Zero Motivation (M18, 100 minutes, 2014), the opening film in this year's Israel Film Festival.

Most women conscripts are tracked into administrative jobs, says the film's writer-director Talya Lavie, 37.

Squeeze women from all sectors of society into one office in a remote army camp and the stage is set for absurdism.

"I was inspired and amused by the idea of using envelopes, coffee cups, office intrigues, staple guns and Solitaire to create a female response to the male-dominated military films genre," says Lavie in an e-mail interview with Life.

She will speak after the screening of Zero Motivation today at Golden Village Vivocity.

The film was among the highest- earning home-grown works in Israel last year and won a slew of awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay from the Israeli Film Academy as well as Best Narrative Feature in last year's Tribeca Film Festival.

Unlike Singapore, which has mandatory national service for men, Israelis of both sexes are conscripted into the Israel Defence Forces.

In Singapore, the shared male experience of military life has spawned the Ah Boys To Men comedy franchise and at least one horror movie set in an army camp (23:59, 2011).

Israel, too, has its army films, but few are seen from a woman's perspective, says Lavie.

"Israeli women may serve in combat roles, such as pilots or tank crew instructors, but I wanted to focus on the office girls - the unseen and mostly ignored majority whose contribution is lacking any social or symbolic value," she says.

While she sets her movie in an army camp, the film-maker hesitates to call it an "army film".

Rather, it offers a glimpse of what she calls the "Israeli militaristic society", in how far-reaching the Israel Defence Forces is in many aspects of life.

The soul-sapping tedium of bureaucratic work is seen through the eyes of two misfits, Zohar (played by Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar), women with contrasting personalities who bond over a shared dislike of their remote posting, pointless daily tasks and promotion-seeking commander.

But the film's central ideas - the ironies of military life, the low-key despair, all mixed with a touch of black humour - are the director's nods to classic military satires such as Catch 22 (1970) and MASH (1970).

Lavie based the story partly on her own experience in the Israel Defence Forces, while taking snatches from a mix of genres - the coming-of-age movie, the workplace comedy and buddy movie.

That mix happened because she says she wanted "a large scale of emotions", even at the risk of messiness, to match the ups and downs that the friends go through in the desert camp.

Their odd-couple pairing, the cause of much friction as well as affection, is the result of the Israel Defence Forces' melting-pot function, such that it "mixes everybody together and takes people out of their social bubble".

"It's unlikely that they would have met otherwise, or that they would have created a true friendship," says Lavie.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Female misfits in the Israeli army'. Print Edition | Subscribe