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Rebellious and outgoing Smadar can't stand types like Mirit. Mirit, introverted and frightened, keeps away from the likes of Smadar. But the two are thrown together as they are assigned to a patrol in Jerusalem as part of their compulsory military service. Their job is to stop Palestinian passersby, to ask for their identity cards, and to write down their details on special forms. You don't move from this place, don't sit down, don't smoke, don't eat, don't talk on your cell phones, says their commander, leaving them alone on the street with their patrol forms. What will they do now? This is the story of two 18-year-old girls who are busy with their own worlds--falling in love, break-ups, and the volatile relationship between the two--in an attempt to ignore the political reality in a city that slowly makes its way into their lives. As women, this film is our own way of soul searching, about our army service and the occupation Written by
Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hager
Imagine living in a world where the bus you are riding on could, at any given moment, detonate into a fiery deathtrap in a deliberate act of mass murder, or the café you are sitting at be rocked to its very foundations by a well-placed briefcase filled with explosives. How would living in so perpetual a state of high alert affect the things you did, the places you went to, the people you saw? And how would such an environment determine the structure of the society itself, the laws it proscribed and the way in which it treated its people? And could terrorism itself become such a commonplace and familiar fact of everyday life that even it might lose the ability to shock and horrify the very people closest to it?
Finding the means of successfully combating terrorism has, of course, become a life-or-death necessity for the people of Israel. One of their responses to the threat has been to instigate mandatory military service for all their young people. Another has been to subject Arabs to legal random searches - simply for being Arabs. In the Israeli film, "Close to Home," Smadar and Mirit are two young Army officers whose job it is to check the ID's of anyone in their assigned area who happens to look like a Palestinian. Possibly because they have grown up with terrorism as a regular part of their lives, these girls seem to have developed a strange immunity to its effects, for neither seems overly impressed with the seriousness of the job they are doing - although, of the two, Mirit is a little more concerned about what might happen to them were they found to be in any way derelict in their duties. Smadar and Mirit are not exactly natural buddies, but, over time, they develop a certain tenuous closeness that seems sure to blossom into a full-fledged friendship by the end of the story. Or will it?
"Close to Home" is more of a naturalistic study of the day-to-day lives of these two women than it is a heavily plotted narrative. Most of the film is spent chronicling their interactions with their military superiors, the random people they are forced to interrogate, and, most importantly, each other. Smadar Sayar and Neama Shendar create believable, memorable characters who perform their task more out of a sense of duty than a fiery love of country. It's only when an explosion hits a little too close to home that they are, at least momentarily, shaken out of their lethargy. But even that doesn't last for long, as the girls begin to slack off at their jobs once again, with Smadar becoming an ever more potentially corrupting influence on the decidedly less rebellious Mirit.
If the filmmakers, Vardit Bilu and Dalia Hager, have a political point to make, it is well hidden beneath the deceptively casual surface of the girls' relationship. For this is, first and foremost, a story about Smadar and Neama, about two Israeli youngsters who, despite the extraordinary conditions under which they are forced to live, are basically interested in the same things that preoccupy young people the world over: moving away from home, pursuing romantic interests, deciding on hairstyles and fashions. If anything, the filmmakers seem to be saying that it really isn't possible for the human mind to exist in a state of constant readiness no matter how great the threat, that eventually the concerns of common everyday life will rise to the surface and crowd most everything else out. Bilu and Hager clearly acknowledge the reality of the terrorist threat, but they also know that a life ruled by fear is no life at all.
In a subtle but persuasive way, the movie also raises the extremely touchy question of just how far a nation should go in abrogating the civil liberties of any single group in exchange for increased safety. It is an issue Israel has been dealing throughout its entire existence, and the movie makers clearly acknowledge that there is no simple solution to that conundrum - a conundrum that has, unfortunately, become increasingly relevant beyond the limits of the Israeli border.
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