Close to Home

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This review was  written for the theatrical release of "Close to Home." 

LONDON -- Sympathy isn't often strong for the men and women who wave radar scanners, poke through bags and make people empty their pockets at security checkpoints, but a thoughtful little Israeli film titled "Close to Home" makes a case for those overlooked workers.

Offering a different perspective on a type of work that plays an increasing role in everyone's life and featuring appealing performances by the two leads, the film could do well in art houses and at festivals.

Naama Shendar and Smadar Sayar play teenagers in the Israeli military patrolling a section of Jerusalem close to the city gates. Their job is to check the identity cards of people who appear to be Arabs, an occupation that involves embarrassment, humiliation and fear. The group in which they serve is run by a severe commanding officer named Dubek (Irit Suki), who reminds them constantly that while on patrol they are not to eat or smoke, speak on a cell phone or even sit down.

When they are not examining I.D. cards and filling in forms, Mirit (Shendar) and Smadar (Sayar) are looking over their shoulders worrying that Dubek will catch them doing something wrong.

The film opens with the two young women having to inspect and interrogate an Arab woman who is trying to hold on to her dignity while being questioned. She is ordered to throw away the sandwich her young son is eating because there's a rule against food in the interview room. Awkward and unsettling, the scene establishes the difficulties faced by the youthful security corps who would rather chat about movies and boyfriends than nitpick at strangers.

The Palestinian conflict is not addressed in the film although a bomb going off is enough to remind the two young officers and the audience of the constant need for vigilance. Using handheld cameras, writer/directors Vardit Bilu and Dalia Hagar capture a sense of free spirits being trapped on mean streets.

Smadar is the rebel of the two, always happy to skip questioning pedestrians in order to grab a smoke or a bite. Mirit is more idealistic and dutiful but when she is knocked to the ground in an explosion and a good-looking stranger makes sure she is unhurt, her fantasies start to flower.

The two women have a falling out over their differing attitudes to responsibility and the film views their plight with compassion and no little humor. The picture certainly does not present an answer to the problems facing a place such as Israel in keeping its streets safe from harm, but in these two young women at least there's the sense that humanity is at work there.

CLOSE TO HOME (Karov La Bayit)
Transfax Film Productions
Soda Pictures (U.K.) IFC First Take (U.S.)
Credits:
Directors and screenwriters: Vardit Bilu, Dalia Hagar
Producers: Marek Rozenbaum, Itai Tamir
Cinematographer: Yaron Scharf
Art director: Avi Fahima
Editor: Joel Alexis
Composer: Jonathan Bar-Giroa
Cast:
Mirit: Naama Shendar
Smadar: Smadar Sayar
Dubek: Irit Suki
Head commander: Sharon Reginiano
Hat store woman: Sandra Schonwald
Mirit's father: Ami Weinberg
Mirit's mother: Katia Zinbris
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating

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