Dir/scr: Dalia Hager, Vidi Bilu. Israel. 2005. 90mins.
A modest, low-budget feature that shows the rarelyexplored routines of female soldiers in Israel, Close To Home was one of the more pleasant surprises from Israellast year.
A theatrical debut for itstwo directors, it follows two 18-year-old girls, Smadar(Smadar Sayar) and Irith (Naama Schendar),new to military service. Allowed the privilege of serving close to home insteadof living in barracks like most soldiers, they are detailed to patrol Jerusalemduring the day. Once their shift is over, however, they are like other girlstheir age.
Given the topic,international audiences might expect to find a distinctly political message butthe film intentionally stays away from clear-cut statements, reflecting generaluncertainty in progressive Israeli circles. While its size and visual approachwould probably better fit TV, it is worth considering for the arthouse market and festivals. It played in Forum at Berlin,where it was also picked up for sales by Films Distribution.
Shot in a documentary-likefashion, the picture offers a realistic, straightforward account of two teenshanded suddenly responsibilities they never sought nor imagined they couldhandle.
Headstrong, independent,rebellious Smadar and shy, introvert, fearful Mirit, are an uneasy tandem, clashing from the very firstmoment, and their awkward relationship provides the episodic script with itsbackbone.
But as they proceed, alarger picture emerges of the mood and atmosphere in the street, combined withthe natural concerns of young women, in or out of uniform, for romance, friendship and mutualunderstanding.
While Close To Home at first seems a sort of coming-of-age picture, thereis more than meets the eye. As secure and certain as the young girls appear tobe at times, they lack the tough insensitivity their job requires, as the endof the last act indicates.
Brisk editing, fluidcamerawork and uncannily natural performances from the two leads - remarkablysupported by Irit Suki astheir commanding officer - make for a slice of life observed through a femalesensibility. The script may not be that perfectly structured, but then lifeisn't that well planned either.
Ilanit Ben Yaakov