Close To Home

Close To Home


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Have you ever had a job which required you to approach strangers - cold calling, perhaps, or catalogue sales in the street - where you could be sure that most of them would resent you personally for wasting their time, despite you having little choice in the matter? Most people really struggle when placed in this position, and that's the case for most of the girls in Close To Home, whose job it is to patrol Jerusalem looking for people who look like Arabs and checking their ID.

Other degrading jobs include strip-searching Arab women, all according to a set of rules and regulations which often seem petty to all concerned. This is all part of their national service, and most of the girls resent it. They are constantly tempted to disregard the rules, to do people favours or simply to vacate their posts, yet as the bombing which occurs halfway through this film reminds us, they simply cannot afford to. Jerusalem is a city under siege. Observing the effects of that situation upon all these ordinary people, Arab and Israeli alike, brings it much closer to home than news broadcasts are able to.

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From the beginning, Mirit (Neama Shendar) is deeply dissatisfied with her job, making continual requests to be transferred to another unit. It's all the more embarrassing for her because she has been stationed close to home, in a neighbourhood where she might have to deal with people she knows. She also struggles to get on with her fellow soldiers, frustrated by their tendency to shirk, to rebel or to leave all the work to her. Paired with her on patrol duty is the very different Smadar (Smadar Sayar), who at first resents her attitude but gradually becomes attached to her, determined to teach her to enjoy life. Both are experiencing the kind of identity issues and intense emotional crises which nearly all teenagers go through, but they are having to do so whilst dealing with a tremendous responsibility for the safety of their city. Furthermore, their youth makes it difficult for them to do their job. They can command little real authority and patently don't know what to do in the kind of crisis situations where people look to them for guidance.

Close To Home is an astute and beautifully scripted film which draws the viewer right in to the livers of its characters and, in so doing, paints an intimate portrait of life in the beleaguered city. It doesn't take sides politically but concentrates on human realities, revealing a situation which is unpleasant for all concerned.

As the girls mature under pressure of their experiences, so the viewer becomes more aware of the complex circumstances in which they find themselves. Their moments of passion are presented sympathetically, yet the style of the script is very raw, and we see them make mistakes and lose control and make fools of themselves as teenagers do, with no simple resolution or happy ending. In a sense this is a coming-of-age story, but more than anything it is a story of friendship, a tale of two very different people learning to understand each other in a world where lack of understanding is at the heart of everybody's problems.

Close To Home is a rare personal take on a political issue to which many have become desensitised, and it is also a powerful story in its own right.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2007
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A group of teenage girls undertake national service in Jerusalem, dealing with personal tensions under pressure of public responsibility.
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Director: Dalia Hager, Vidi Bilu

Writer: Dalia Hager, Vidi Bilu

Starring: Smadar Sayar, Naama Schendar, Irit Suki, Katia Zimbris

Year: 2005

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Israel


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