Directors: Dalia Hager & Vidi Bilu
They’re told to keep their uniforms immaculate and hair pulled back, to keep their eyes open and practice restraint and sensitivity to those they decide to check. Although privately, eighteen year old Mirit (talented newcomer Naama Schendar) appeals to her parents to try and find some loophole to get out of her required two year service as a soldier in the Israeli Army, publicly she’s a dedicated, hard working addition to her all-female unit. Mirit’s strict adherence to the rules is soon tested when she’s partnered up with the rebellious motorbike riding Smadar (a terrific Smadar Sayar) whose entire philosophy seems to be to keep her head down, stay out of sight and do as little work as possible until her term is finished.
While Mirit continues to pound the pavement by day, dutifully stopping Arabs to check their ID cards and add the information to lists while fighting her natural urge as a teenager to bend the rules-- even while on break-- to go try on a beautiful hat in a shop window, Smadar spends most of her time smoking and talking on her cell phone until their no-nonsense commanding officer (Irit Suki) decides to go on rounds with them. After an explosion goes off within feet of Mirit, Smadar has a change of heart and the two girls begin to tentatively bond with consequences that are positive as Mirit tries to get out of her shell especially where romance is concerned and negative when Smadar’s rebellious nature proves contagious.
A fascinating slice-of-life piece from writer/directors Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu, this Israeli film undoubtedly draws on their own experiences as teen soldiers yet intriguingly, it doesn’t make any grand statements or address the Israel/Palestine conflict throughout its roughly ninety minute running time. Preferring to stay objective, we’re left to make up our own minds in realizing the importance of the service completed by the young Israeli soldiers yet all the while remaining aware of the limitations as some of the citizens are able to bully the girls due to their youth and some in the same turn feel bullied as well.
Close to Home boasts a star-making turn by Smadar Sayar whose fierce passion as Smadar makes her character the most commanding of the entire film as she believably evolves, indicative of not only her young age but the circumstance in which she finds herself. While some critics cried foul at what they perceived was a teen angst focus instead of the opportunity to stimulate political debate, I felt it was a refreshingly honest character-driven piece and one that reminds us to stop thinking abstractly and concentrate on the humanity of the conflict and the way that the situation is far more complicated than most citizens-- let alone eighteen year old kids-- can possibly imagine.
Winner of the Best Screenplay Award from the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Special Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival Forum, Close to Home makes a wonderful foreign film to share with your own teenage daughters, (especially here in the states), to inspire greater global awareness by introducing them to the situation in the Middle East through the eyes of their diligent contemporaries overseas who stand prepared with their hair pulled back, uniforms immaculate and ready to serve.