Modern mass armies rely heavily on behind-the-scenes functionaries who will never fire a gun. The old saw that “an army travels on its stomach” could be accurately updated to say that a modern army is dependent on its office supplies.
That isn’t exactly the message of the Israeli film “Zero Motivation,” a first feature by Israeli writer-director Talya Lavie, but it provides the context. The film, which won the “best narrative feature” prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is set in a dead-end military post that is a graveyard for undistinguished careers and an unintended spur to highly original forms of gold-bricking. That description may bring to mind “Sergeant Bilko,” but the film is a bleakly funny service comedy that owes more to “Catch-22” or “M*A*S*H.”
Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) are best friends, NCOs assigned to the administrative office of this professional cul-de-sac, who spend most of their time playing Minesweeper on the office computers and scheming how to get transferred to someplace more appealing. Their superior officer, Rama (Shani Klein), has genuine aspirations to rise in the officer corps, but her deadbeat office staff are unlikely to be the wind that will lift her upward.
The film is structured as a series of three episodes focusing on Daffi’s increasingly desperate attempts to be sent to Tel Aviv, Zohar’s no-less-desperate search for someone to deflower her, and the ongoing collision between Zohar and the rest of the IDF, a battle that the army is bound to lose. Lavie depicts the base as a degrading cross between high school and a particularly dire summer camp, and her eye for the power of caste and the social slight is unerring. Score another promising debut for the Israeli film industry.
“Zero Motivation” plays Dec. 3-16 at Film Forum (209 W. Houston St.).