“Zero Motivation” is a military satire. As such, it’s easy to explain through comparisons to familiar American military satires, such as the great “M*A*S*H” and the less great if more Jewish “Catch-22.” But despite some funny moments, this Israeli film is as close to the flop sitcom sequel “After M*A*S*H” as to Robert Altman’s movie masterpiece.
Maybe you have to experience the drudgery of mandatory military service to appreciate “Zero Motivation,” explaining the all the awards the film was nominated for and won in Israel. In fact, Dana Ivgy’s performance as rebellious, frustrated, virginal soldier Zohar is deserving of her best-actress award, and the actors around her are excellent.
My problem is with the script, which won best screenplay for writer-director Talya Lavie. I appreciate dark humor as much as anyone, but Lavie too often loses the humor completely in the darkness, a lack of subtlety and deftness that doesn’t work in a film that usually goes for the ridiculous.
The difference with “M*A*S*H” is clear early on. Whereas the Korean War movie mines comedy and a memorable theme song from a phony suicide attempt, the peacetime “Zero” opts for shocks over laughs with a suicide scene. It’s hard to find consistent humor afterward.
“Zero Motivation” is best enjoyed in moments, many of which are brilliant, but in the end I was as desperate as Daffi (Nelly Tagar) to escape the desert army base for something more entertaining.
(While screenings Feb. 3, 6 and 14 are sold out, tickets remain for Feb. 11 at UA Tara; ajff.org.)
— Michael Jacobs