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Movie Review: Close To Home

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Close To Home offers a unique spin on the impact of terrorism by focusing on the struggles of young women in urban Israel as they are forced to fulfill their compulsory military service. The girls are assigned to a unit tasked with patrolling the streets of Jerusalem in the hopes of identifying potential terrorists before they strike. In theory, it’s a wise plan designed to protect the citizens of Jerusalem, but in action it’s a mind-numbing and unpleasant activity for the girls as it forces them to racially profile and question any Palestinians they encounter.

The film follows two of the girls paired together against their will, the innocent and compliant Mirit (Naama Schendar) and the rebellious Smadar (Smadar Sayar). Mirit initially does everything by the book, always following her patrol schedule and rigorously documenting all Palestinians she spots. Smadar would rather be anywhere else, and frequently ditches her duty to have her hair done, spend some time shopping, or just ignore any suspects that cross her path. This raises some interesting questions about the Israeli security plan as the girls are responsible to serve their country in some capacity, but the country may not benefit by relying on potentially naïve and unwilling participants to patrol its streets.

As the girls grow accustomed to each other, they eventually share a tragic moment that allows them to form a tenuous bond in spite of their differences. After this event, the goody two-shoes Mirit relaxes and starts to shun her duty, first by stalking an attractive stranger and then by abandoning her post for a harmless dalliance with another man. When her superior catches her transgression, Mirit is temporarily incarcerated, leading Smadar to realize how much she misses her company and setting up the final act when they are reunited.

While the film is centered on the friendship and daily routines of the girls, it's impossible to overlook their dangerous environment. The film is unsettling not just because of the omnipresent threat of terrorism, but because the city they patrol looks so much like any other Western metropolis. The residents go about their business as usual in spite of the military personnel patrolling their city, while the military girls are modern, cosmopolitan individuals similar to any other city girls, but at any moment their beautiful city could be rocked by a random act of terrorism. The Palestinian residents are subjected to constant harassment and requirements to produce their IDs on demand, leading to an us-against-them mentality that can’t help but breed animosity on both sides. It’s a frightening glimpse of what the US could easily become, and a reminder of how fortunate we are for now.

Close to Home was written and directed by Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hager, two Israeli women with minimal feature film experience whose collaboration has resulted in a strong calling card for both of them. Like their subjects, they both completed their mandatory military service immediately after high school, providing them with personal insight into their fascinating production. Their lead actresses also contribute winning performances, creating wholly believable and memorable characters living through an unimaginable experience.

Close to Home
opens in limited theatrical release in New York City on February 16, 2007. Additional dates and venues available online.

Written by Caballero Oscuro

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I haven’t seen the movie – so I can’t comment on it per se. I can comment on what it appears to be reflected in your review. This is not because I live in Israel, but because I am a police volunteer in Jerusalem with the precise same duties as the young women in that are depicted in the film. The big difference is they are probably depicted with M16’s and I carry an M1.

    Arab terrorism is a very real threat here. And in Jerusalem, it has scarred many parts of the city. The most scarred are the city center, French Hill trampiada, and innumerable buses. The French Hill trampiada has suffered at least four attacks, some with rifles, some with belt bombs. The State has gotten around to putting up plaques to memorialize the victims of two terror attacks.

    The point here is, as we say in Hebrew, “zeh kol biglalkhá, Havér” – “it’s all because of you, friend”. In other words, there would be no need to check Arabs who seem suspicious if there were not at least 80 possible terror attacks called in every day here, a point this film probably does not dwell on at all. From your description, it appears that the terror and the threat of it is taken for granted, and thus it seems wrong to check those persons who might commit it. Tell that to my doctor, who lost a daughter in a terror attack in downtown J-lem, or to the woman who need ed several surgeries to correct the injuries of a bus bombing, or to the relatives of Hezi Goldberg, a social worker who was killed in a bus bombing.

    These are things the makers of this film do not appear to care about.

    As I mentioned, I did not see this film, so I cannot comment on the film itself. But speaking from my own knowledge as a uniformed police volunteer, it is very rare for soldiers to be assigned to guard against terrorism in the city of Jerusalem. The folks in khaki who do the heavy lifting in this task are the Border Police, known in Hebrew as Mishtéret G’vul or Maga”v for short, and they are volunteers who have to be accepted in a high profile unit that is a military unit attached to the Israel Police. You don’t get in so that you can get laid, or do your nails, or run off to the hairdresser. Maybe the army (Tzah”al, the IDF) is like that here. The command structure of the army is killing its morale, and the political echelon makes it even worse by making it impossible to carry out an effective offensive against terrorists in their own lairs. But this is not true of the Maga”v.

    Nevertheless, I’ll check details on this film to see if it is available “close to home”. You’ve roused my curiosity.