Film-Forward Review: [CLOSE TO HOME]

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Naama Schendar as Mirit
Photo: IFC First Take

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Written and Directed by: Vidi Bilu & Dalia Hagar.
Produced by: Marek Rozenbaum & Itai Tamir.
Director of Photography: Yaron Scharf.
Edited by: Joelle Alexis.
Music by: Yontan Bar Giora.
Released by: IFC First Take.
Language: Hebrew with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Israel. 94 Minutes. Not Rated.
With: Smadar Sayar, Naama Schendar & Irit Suki.

This is not only the first feature film on women soldiers in Israel, where military service is required of all 18 to 20-year-olds, but a rare depiction of female troops anywhere. Despite the rhetoric of equality, Israeli women, like cowriter/director Dalia Hager, spent their service at office jobs until recently. But to prevent civilian bombings, many are now on the frontline every day searching Palestinian women at the lengthy, humiliating border checks.

Fresh from their induction, prickly and aggressive Smadar (played by Smadar Sayar) rebels against any strictures, and timid Mirit (Naama Schendar) follows the rules. Assigned to patrol Jerusalem together, these two opposites are required to select Arab passersby, stop them for their identity cards, and record their ID information on forms, as cowriter/director Vidi Bilu did during her military service. The strength of this story is rooted in these well-portrayed and realistic personalities who are maturing, dealing with family and guys, all within a fraught situation exacerbated by gender.

The young women have to accommodate an ill-fitting male model of behavior, including pleasing their martinet officers. In one telling vignette, a visiting male commander praises the womenís important role in a heightened state of alert as he towers above his petite subordinates. As in Amos Gitaiís Kippur about male soldiers in Israel, this army commutes to the front, one of the several layers of meaning to the title. Mirit still lives with her protective parents and is embarrassed when her parents drive her to work, while Smadar confidently rides her own motor bike. Though sternly instructed by their commander to ignore the cityís restaurants and shops when on-duty, the duo canít help but be tempted by a pastry, a jaunty hat, a hair salon or a handsome man. Even their base commander canít resist sneaking off for romance.

Full of vibrant verbal and physical expressiveness, the best scenes occur when these typical teenagers just seek a little relief from their routine duties but get caught up in unintended consequences. While actual violence is left off-screen, the bureaucratic boredom is jolted in a flash, first by a bombing and later an escalating argument between Israelis and an uncooperative Arab. Through these experiences the disgruntled partners experience unexpected foxhole solidarity. But the film meanders from incident to incident with a slender plotline to link an otherwise involving and very sympathetic portrait.

Having been shown at festivals around the world, Close to Home will be immediately available through digital on-demand cable services, in addition to its limited theatrical release. Nora Lee Mandel
February 16, 2007



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