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