Like Encounter Point and Dear Father, Close to Home begins with our sense of guilt for the oppressor we have become. But unlike other Israeli films which depict such indelicacies as detaining Arabs and forcing them to be strip searched, Home brings up the topic, confronts it, makes its audience aware of the nauseating reality, and moves on to a much more fascinating and far less investigated theme.
In Israel, the soldiers defending the country, both young men and women serving their mandatory tour in the army, are teenagers. Straight out of highs school they are trained to obey orders, to do what the army requires – there is no place for autonomy. When most teenagers around the civilized world are discovering who they are and relishing their ability to express their individualism, Israeli teens are stripped of those freedoms for a majority of their waking lives.
Close to Home is even more novel because not only does it concentrate on the dynamic between teen spirit and forced military service, it brilliantly chooses female soldiers to tell the story.
Beyond the fact that these girls are stunningly beautiful and ridiculously young (and I’m sure many guys have had their chayalah moment), you can’t but watch them in awe based on their struggle to cope with this strange predicament being set upon them. The film focuses on two soldiers, a good girl, Mirit, (Neama Shendar, a ringer for Portman) and a misunderstood bad girl, Smadar (Smadar Sayar). Smadar is of course cynical and disobeys orders while Mirit is impossibly compliant. Naturally, they are partnered up to complete their rounds which require them to ask folks who look like Arabs to present their ID cards. The records made from these rounds are supposed to be used in case of a terror attack so the army can identify who was where and when. But the girls are skeptical and ashamed to bother and demean regular, hard working Arabs. This shame turns to frustration, sometimes to passivity, and occasionally causes outburst from either hardened Israelis or fed up Arabs. The moral is that for these girls spending their most precious, formative years soldiering, their spectacular dedication to the country naturally comes into conflict with their burgeoning sense of self and ethics.
Directors Vardit and Vidi Bilu do a terrific job of convincing us for some time that these soldiers really are just regular teenage girls – being catty and sensitive, giggling at sleepovers, chasing boys, lying about chasing boys, hiding form their commander as if from the principal in school – but then suddenly, a bomb explodes, and as the screaming crowds run form the smoke, blood, and rubble, our wide eyed, angel faced chayalot drift almost hypnotized toward the center of the chaos to do their jobs…and we realize that in Israel, there cannot be a movie about just regular teenage girls.