“Zero Motivation,” the award-winning Israeli film, is back in the news. The black comedy takes on that most sacred and venerated of Israeli institutions—the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—and was a great success in Israel. It garnered six Ophir Awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars, including awards for the film’s director and screenplay writer Talya Lavie. The movie is now set to be adapted as a television series for American audiences by BBC America. The television rights were obtained by Amy Poehler and Natasha Lyonne.
The two women, stars of the small screen—Poehler appeared in “Parks and Recreation” and Lyonne has a role in “Orange Is the New Black”—saw the film at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the narrative feature award in 2014. Poehler, a Massachusetts native (she was born in Newton and raised in Burlington), will no doubt bring her comedic sensibilities to the project. Lyonne, a former model, has her own impressions of the IDF from living in Israel for a short time as a child with her Orthodox family.
Now available on Netflix, “Zero Motivation” introduces two women soldiers waiting for a bus to their remote artillery base in the south of Israel. Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) are best friends and scramble to get adjoining seats. Their closeness is portrayed by the headphones that tether them to each other. Not long into the ride the bus breaks down and the passengers are forced to board another bus. The pair loses their seats and has to spend the rest of the trip standing. The look of unhappiness and ennui on their faces sets the tone for the rest of the story.
Zohar and Daffi have been assigned to a human resources office, where the work includes serving coffee and food to the mostly male military officers, filing papers into hopelessly chaotic binders, sorting mail and paper shredding. As the title of the film indicates, these soldiers are not inspired by their work, nor do they find reasons to get along with one another.
Divided into three chronological episodes, “Zero Motivation” follows Zohar and Daffi through their military service. Zohar mostly complains and grimaces, making snide comments throughout. The quirky, spacy Daffi dreams of transferring to a base in Tel Aviv, and conjures images of herself wearing a designer uniform and stiletto heels as she strolls down the streets of the cosmopolitan city.
“Zero Motivation” sets itself apart in that it’s a military film told from a female perspective. Men on the base only exist as secondary characters that affirm how dreary and sexist military life, and life in general for that matter, can be. The fact that the women are stuck in an office on an army base is almost beside the point. This could be any dreary entry-level job. (In Israel it just so happens that most first jobs are with the IDF.) The movie has been described as the love child of “MASH” and “Orange Is the New Black,” as well as “Private Benjamin” meets “The Office.”
“Zero Motivation” further distinguishes itself by eschewing regional and Israeli politics. A broader geopolitical context is jettisoned for an isolated, mundane world in which a staple gun rather than an Uzi is a prized possession, and by the end of the film is the weapon of choice in a brawl between Zohar and Daffi. In setting up the staple gun in an early scene, Lavie is having a bit of fun with the Chekhovian adage that if a gun is introduced in Act I it must be fired by Act III. And the director introduces more silliness throughout the film by skewering the IDF’s image as a lean, mean, fighting machine. Zohar and Daffi’s army, which takes in all factions of Israeli society, is a claustrophobic, disorganized entity mired in thick bureaucracy.
Like the film, the TV series will be a comedy drama about women serving in the IDF. Lavie will be on hand as executive producer, and writer Tami Sagher, whose credits include “Girls” and “Inside Amy Schumer,” will join the series. Although work on the series is still in the early stages, the verisimilitude that contributed to the film’s success will hopefully cross over to the small screen.