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Close to Home (Karov La Bayit)
Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu


Clemmy Manzo
posted
11 April 2007

Close to Home is the story of a group of 18-year-old Israeli girls going about their compulsory military service in Jerusalem. It focuses on two girls in particular, rebellious Smadar (Smadar Sayar) and the rather wimpish Mirit (Naama Schendar), who, much to Smadar’s dismay, have been assigned to work together. They must patrol the streets of the city checking the ID of anyone who ‘looks Arab’.

While Mirit has overbearing parents and no friends, Smadar is mischievous, independent and does not take her military service seriously. In fact, apart from Mirit, who is terrified of getting into trouble, none of the girls are particularly conscientious. They are always trying to extend their breaks, ignoring the no smoking and no eating rules and warning each other through frantic calls on their mobile phones whenever they spot the commanders in the area. The girls’ attitude is slack and the process of checking ID cards is absurd, highlighting the ineffectiveness of the system, as well as revealing the directors’ disillusionment with the political situation in Israel. The humiliation of the Arab men being questioned by bored 18-year-olds is painful to watch, as are the uncomfortable silences during the tense scenes where the girls are made to strip search Palestinian women in cubicles.

Close to Home seems at first to focus primarily on the teenagers’ personal lives, particularly the blossoming friendship between Mirit and Smadar. Yet it soon becomes obvious that the make-up and break-ups that form part of any teenager’s life – wherever they come from – are, for these girls, not insulated from their military responsibility and the political inferno that engulfs them. Although clothes and boys are at the forefront of the girls’ thoughts, the conflict is always present in the minds of the characters - and of the audience. A bombing in Smadar’s and Mirit’s sector shakes them up and is an ominous reminder of the constant danger that they are in. In fact, it is the effects of the conflict that bring the two very different protagonists closer together. Smadar Sayar and Naama Schendar, both relatively unknown actresses in their country before the making of Close to Home, give very accomplished performances.

At one point in the film, Smadar is questioned by the commander, Dubek (Irit Suki) why she has so few Arabs on her ID check list. She answers, ‘Maybe I don’t know what an Arab looks like’. The insolent rebuke reflects an important underlying theme: we as human beings are no different from one another. Certainly, the Jews and the Arabs do not look that different - physically. What separates them and distinguishes one from the other are the military uniforms and what they represent – a detail that is, unfortunately, impossible to ignore.

 

 
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