I spoke with Zero Motivation director Talya Lavie about mixing genres and surrealism in her debut feature film
Neal Dhand: Did you always consider this a comedy? There are some rather dark moments – sexual violence and suicide – that could easily move this into darker territory. Were they always in the script?
Talya Lavie: The film is defined as a “dark comedy”, but while writing the script, I didn’t want to constrain myself in a specific genre. I put a large scale of emotions in it and the scenes you mentioned were there from the first draft of the script. I was actually interested in mixing different spirits in this film: humor, sadness, nonsense and tragedy.
ND: Do you consider those scenes mentioned above to be unique to a female-military perspective?
TL: Since the main characters of the film are women and I’m a female director, I guess it’s unavoidable to say that it has a female perspective. But it actually talks about a wider experience that Israeli men relate to as well: The experience of being a “pencil pusher”, an unimportant figure in a system. The film is not really ABOUT the army, I referred to the little office as a glimpse into Israeli militaristic society. The IDF is a major institute that affects all parts of society, culturally and politically.
ND: What’s the inspiration for dividing this into three specific sections?
TL: I’m very intrigued by interesting and complex structures of scripts and plays. I also like the classic division of 3 acts in theatre plays. A cinematic inspiration was “Pulp Fiction” by the great Tarantino. I think it’s one of the most brilliant scripts ever written. Also, in the IDF everything is divided into 3. But that’s such an inside joke, that I may be the only one who finds it funny.
ND: You have some fantastical moments in here. The more apparent ones – Tehila’s ghost, Guy’s appearance next to Zohar – and then smaller things, such as the transition with the coffee seating chart, early in the film. Is this for some whimsicality amidst the mundanity of army life?
TL: Regarding the surrealistic parts, I have always had trouble telling apart imagination and reality. So in a way, that’s how I see the world. As a filmmaker I like to use this cinematic tool of showing what goes on in the characters’ minds. What happens in the real world seems sometimes more surrealistic than what can be imagined.
ND: I noticed a lot of static wide shots in here. Is that a style you prefer? Did you storyboard this ahead of time?
TL: I was inspired by the great classic army films, and wanted “Zero Motivation” to refer to them in its own way, to contain some of their elements such as pathos and epic proportions while focusing on the gray, mundane office girls. We wanted to create a battleground out of an office. It’s true that these girls don’t risk their lives, but they are definitely in danger of dying of boredom. Besides that, I’m very influenced by graphic novels esthetics, in terms of squeezing many details- stories, jokes and information- into every frame, as if somebody’s going to pause on each shot and take a longer look at it.
ND: How much rehearsal did you have? I read that you shot this in 24 days. Was there any one scene that felt the most rushed to you?
TL: We rehearsed a lot, also on location. We had a very short time for the shooting so I wanted to be as prepared as possible. So we rehearsed almost like for a theatre play. I remember one scene we didn’t have the time to shoot as planned: Daffi’s fantasy in Tel-Aviv, we ran out of time and had to improvise. But eventually it’s one of my favorites moment in the film.
ND: How do you work with your cinematographer, Yaron Scharf? Did you approach this from a common visual language? How were you able to get the look down?
TL: Yaron Scharf is a true master. He is a very experienced and accomplished DP, and yet he’s very modest and open minded. We had a great dialog. Cinematically, we wanted to keep the monochromatic palette of the army base, its grey structures, crowded offices and rundown living quarters, set against the beautiful desert scenery of the south of Israel, with its warm colors, constantly changing weather, and sense of freedom.
ND: One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Daffi finds all of her letters hanging around the base. It’s almost absurd how many letters there are. Do you have a favorite scene?
TL: I love all the scenes. If I must choose I’d say that even after watching the film so many times, I still laugh at the shooting instruction scene, in the second story.