Close to Home
In Israel, military service is compulsory for men and women. There are numerous films about the former, but this is the first one I've seen about women in the army.
It begins with at a checkpoint descending into anarchy when a rebellious conscript decides to let everyone pass through unchecked. As the CO reestablishes order and tries to find out what happened, only new recruit Mirit (Neama Shendar) speaks up to distance herself from the troublemaker. She is immediately branded a squealer by her comrades.
The other new recruit, Smader (Smader Sayar) couldn't be more different. It's not so much that she objects to the job on political or moral grounds, more that she's naturally anti-authoritarian and always the last one to buckle down - or as her boyfriend puts it, 'totally f***ed up'. Naturally, the staff sergeant puts them together on patrol.
All they have to do is walk their sector with a clip board and check the Ids for any Arab men they see. But while Mirit sets about it zealously, Smader bunks off at every opportunity, just so long as nobody is watching. She's just stormed off after another squabble when Mirit is thrown to the ground by a nearby bombing.
It's a pivotal dramatic moment - some 40 minutes into the film - but it doesn't have the repercussions you might expect. The two young women are drawn closer together, but rather than steeling the flaky Smader, the bombing's fall out softens the formerly strict Mirit. A chance encounter with a handsome good Samaritan seems to promise romance, and she begins to come out of her shell at last.
Written and co-directed by Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu, both of whom served their time in the military, Close to Home is a more nuanced film than it first appears - which is as well, because for a moment there I feared it was going to be a kind of Zionist Prisoner on Cell Block H.
The handheld location filming emphasizes drudgery and banality over suspense or excitement - this is very different from most (male) films about soldiers. There's a lot more shopping than shooting. (In fact they don't appear to carry guns.)
Politics are touched on only glancingly - it's not something the women discuss - but the film is hardly an advertisement for the military: most of the soldiers clearly believe their job is a pointless and degrading exercise, and from what we can see it's probably counter-productive.
But it's hard to imagine this mild and modest picture changing anyone's political views. Hager and Bilu's principle point seems to be to remind us how young and unformed these 18 year olds conscripts are. Although their attitudes to the job at hand are diametrically opposed, they are more alike than they suppose.
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