Close To Home

2005, Movie, NR, 94 mins

Review

CLOSE TO HOME | KAROV LA BAYIT
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Like YOSSI & JAGGER (2002), an expose of gay life inside the Israeli army that didn’t exactly support the image Israel would like to project to the outside word, Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu's drama proved controversial. One of the few films that focuses entirely on young Israeli women conscripted into the army at age 18, it presents a rather unflattering picture of a military largely composed of disinterested, politically disengaged teenagers who'd rather shop than fight.

Unlike other Israeli soldiers who serve their obligatory two years of military service in far-flung parts of the country, recently inducted 18-year-old Mirit (Naama Schendar) is stationed close enough to home that she can return there every night. In Mirit's case, home is the Jerusalem apartment she still shares with her parents. Introverted and somewhat immature, Mirit's inability to fit in with the rest of her single-sex unit is compounded by her own behavior during an incident at a border crossing. Another soldier flatly refuses to continue strip-searching Arab women, leading to general insubordination among the other conscripts. Rather than helping maintain a united front when the rebellious unit is questioned by their superior, Dubek (Irit Suki), Mirit steps forward and claims she had nothing to do with any of it, earning a reputation as a "squealer." Mirit begs her influential father (Ami Weinberg) to arrange a transfer to another unit, but he insists Mirit stick it out and serve honorably, as her mother (Katia Zinbris) did before her. Mirit's misery only increases when her new patrol partner turns out to be the popular and independent-minded Smadar (Smadar Sayar), who lives on her own and treats Mirit with open contempt. They're assigned to patrol a commercial street lined with shops and cafes, routinely checking the ID cards of suspicious — i.e., "Arab-looking" — men. They're under strict orders to remain alert at all times: No socializing, no smoking, no window shopping. Of course, Smadar and her fellow friends use their cell phones to alert each other to Dubek's whereabouts, and in the meantime do pretty much whatever they want; she calls Mirit a moron for sheepishly refusing to follow her into a clothing shop or hair salon during what's only supposed to be a half-hour break. An unexpected affection begins to grow, however, after a bomb blast close to their patrol injures Mirit. She's helped to her feet by a handsome stranger, who then becomes the object of a schoolgirl crush that the timid Mirit refuses to act upon. Eager to prove her maturity and sophistication to Smadar, she begins to relate the details of a new romance that exists only in her mind.

Hager and Bilu's film is that increasingly rare thing: a coming-of-age tale centered on a female friendship that actually feels rooted in the real world. More importantly, it presents an image of today's Israeli army, composed of teenagers who are by now several generations removed from the founders' original vision and have begun to question whether tactics designed to keep the country safe will only lead to increased levels of fear, humiliation and deadly violence. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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