CLOSE TO HOME - ***
Written and directed by Vardit (Vidi) Bilu and Dalia Hager. 90 minutes. Hebrew title: Karov La Bayit. In Hebrew and Arabic, with Hebrew titles.
With Smadar Sayar, Naama Schendar, Irit Suki, Katia Zimbris, Ami Weinberg, Danny Geva, Anna Stephan, Ilanit Ben Yaakov
An engaging, straightforward look at female soldiers guarding the center of Jerusalem during the current intifada, Close to Home
is at its most successful when it portrays the realities of army life and the dilemmas raised by the soldiers' task. When co-directors Vardit (Vidi) Bilu and Dalia Hager, who based the film in part on Bilu's experiences in the IDF, explore the characters' personal lives, the result is far less satisfying, since the two heroines are sketchy at best. We see them throughout the film but never quite understand how they feel about what they're doing or what makes them tick. In spite of this, Close to Home is a compelling film, in part because it's one of the only Israeli movies that has ever focused on female soldiers from a realistic point of view (formula movies such as the 1985 Banot just use women soldiers as the focus for soap opera) and the glimpse it offers into their world is as fascinating as it is disturbing.
The soldiers in Close
are expected to perform the tedious yet nerve-wracking job of patrolling the center of Jerusalem in search of Arabs who may be terrorists. They are also responsible for conducting body searches on Arab women at checkpoints. When they see an Arab in the area they're patrolling, they are expected to approach him and record his name and other identifying details. Then, if there is a terror attack, these Arabs who may or may not have been involved can be tracked down and questioned more easily. That this daunting work is given to inexperienced, unenthusiastic girls just out of high school - at least, if the portrayal of this unit in the film is accurate, and it certainly has an authentic feel - is more than a little unsettling.
The unit's commander, Dubek (wittily played by Irit Suki), is depicted as a tough, humorless taskmaster and the girls routinely ignore her admonitions not to step into shops, talk on the phone or stop off for coffee breaks. As the young soldiers spend their time chatting, buying cute hats and using their cell phones to warn each other when Dubek is coming, it will be hard for anyone who spends time in downtown Jerusalem not to wish that the girls took their commander more seriously (or that the army assigned a more experienced group of soldiers to the most frequently targeted part of the country).
The story revolves around Mirit (Naama Schendar), who longs for a transfer. When asked why, she simply says that she prefers not to serve "close to home," although she seems to have a happy family life. For some reason, the directors chose not to have her articulate any discomfort she feels exercising authority over Arabs or any fear she may have of being the target of a terror attack. She also suffers because she is the one good girl in the unit, the only soldier who, at least at the beginning, takes her assignment seriously. Her partner, Smadar (Smadar Sayar), is far more disgruntled. She's furious at Mirit because Mirit refused to participate in an unauthorized walkout and revealed the details to Dubek. Only after Mirit is wounded in a suicide bombing do the two begin to bond.
Subplots involving Smadar and her boyfriend, who have an inexplicable and not particularly entertaining penchant for shoplifting, and Mirit and a crush she develops on a handsome bystander (Danny Geva), who helps her after the bombing, are underdeveloped. While there are many interesting scenes in the film and the actresses, particularly Irit Suki as the commander, do excellent work, the characters are so unformed that it's hard to understand their reactions to the pressures of the army. Since we don't really know who they are, the ups and downs of the heroines' relationship don't hold much interest. It's as if the filmmakers went ahead and filmed the first draft of a script that could have become considerably richer and more engaging with a bit more work.
In spite of its flaws, Close
is worth seeing to get an insider's glimpse of these young women who do the unenviable work of trying to protect Jerusalem from terror.