Close to Home poster

[Note: Close to Home is set for a
limited theatrical release starting today, February 16. IFC Films sent us a screener
of this and a couple of their other upcoming releases, reviews for which you’ll
see appearing in the coming week or so. IFC’s website has full release

Here in
the states we have an enduring confusion regarding the conflict between
Israel and Palestine. For the general public (myself
included) much of that confusion comes from a vague sense of both the past and
the present of the two nations’ disagreement, and from the blurry eye with
which we regard the region. We see borders and imagine the struggle is between
nations, because we as individuals believe we have nothing invested in the

I’m about
to go all ga-ga for the power of fiction to transcend borders, so let me get a
little distance by saying that it’s the abstract impact of film that I admire,
at least as far as this review is concerned, the simple concept that make-believe
makes truth. Filmgoers got the chance in 2005 to see a textured version of the
Palestinian side of things with the Oscar-nominated Paradise Now. Though
tonally separated from that film, Close to Home functions as a sort of
companion piece — not by intent, but by context for an American audience.

The story
concerns two young Israeli girls during their government-mandated time in
military service. There are no trenches, no frontlines for them to go to,
though; their work is glorified police duty, stopping people on busy sidewalks
to record their ID information, keeping a lookout for Arabs. Mirit and Smadar (both
played by first time actresses, Neama Shandar and Smadar Sayar respectively) are
partnered together, but in true buddy-cop fashion have a few philosophical
differences in their approach to their duties.

Mirit is something
of a mama’s girl. After patrols, she gets a home-cooked meal and a good
tucking-in from her loving parents. She tries to do her best while in uniform, obeying
all her orders, never smoking on duty, and occasionally blabbing on her
comrades when they break the rules. Smadar, on the other hand, casually
disobeys whenever possible, extends her allotted break times, and treats her
posting somewhere around the level we might consider court-appointed community

girl has much in the way of political or religious direction; they’re too young
to have formed any evidence to confirm or deny the impetuses that has sent them
into their situation. What ideals they have are left over from childhood,
underdeveloped and entirely sympathetic to the audience.

than tacking a harrowing plot overtop this personal conflict (and it’s not hard
to see where one might fit), co-writers/directors Vardit Bilu and Dalia Hagar bring
the focus in tight on the girls, developing a story that could pass for an
after-school special for teenagers. Hesitant romance, the cruelty of the
in-crowd, petty lies and betrayals are the name of the game as Mirit and Smadar
gradually build their unlikely friendship. Instead of coming off as trite, this
accomplishes a potent stranging of the familiar, casting a story that has
time-tested wide appeal in a scenario where all the girls wear green uniforms
and explosions go off every once in a while.

It’s a
well-established tradition in storytelling to use a microcosm to represent
something on the macro scale. Close to Home seems half-interested
in doing so, with a small nugget of a moral about people of like conditions
having difficulty relating to one another in the context of a wide conflict,
but it’s far more successful with the personal story of slowing the its girls’ youthful
momentums and guiding them to new, ambiguous directions.

lovely little story of friendship functions as a touchstone, not an analogy, for
any larger message that audiences find presented unresolved to their
consideration. In the presence of political and religious ideologies, government
authorities, and limited freedoms, Mirit and Smadar find that the engines of
their lives are not these nameless abstracts but other living, breathing
people. Humans are the prime movers in all things politic, after all.

comparative analysis between Palestinian and Israeli fictions of the standing
conflict would be fascinating, but not the order of the day. Close
to Home
is like an atom of the whole, complex social construct of its
region — it’s a vital, vibrant component to whatever forum receives its
contribution, but not large enough to carry anything more important than

7.7 out 10