Cinema Signal:

Fighting for Rights:
Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship
by Ronald R. Krebs
(Hardcover from Amazon)
. "Close To Home" (aka, "Karov La Bayit")

Co-writers and directors Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hager tell a story based on their own experiences as 18-year old women obliged to disrupt their lives in order to fulfill compulsory military service in the Israeli Army directly upon graduation from high school. In 2-person patrol units, their mismatched heroines ply the streets of their home city, Jerusalem, performing the often uncomfortable job of asking Palestinians for their ID's, which they record on their daily logs.

Despite their commander's at times stern eye makign sure they do their assignment properly and conscientiously, the pair mixes in as much personal business as they can get away with, from shopping and hairdos to chasing an attractive man down. In official terms these could be called cases of malingering. To be kind, it's easy distractedness. But for the worst of the two, Smadar (Smadar Sayar), it's a serious case of rebellion.

Her partner, Mirit (Neama Schendar), is more in conformity with the job they've been entrusted with, but she is too impressionable and maleable to be in daily contact with such a corruptive, free-wheeling partner. Mirit is respectful of her superiors, even fearful, while Smadar is the type you might find in a juvenile facility for the incorrigible. The tug and tow of the relationship and influence on one another (both in terms of attitude and emotion) provides the major source of drama as they give us an idea of the security policies of the Israeli government.

While someone might think of this as non-political, it reveals much about official needs to keep track of potential enemies, even if it means intimidation and gross inconvenience to a barely tolerated segment of society. Bad as it seems from the perspective of a safe distance, such as in the U.S., one must keep in mind that the worst insult is justified everytime an undiscriminating Palestinian bomb goes off on a crowded bus or market.

Realities being what they are in Israeli society, the story is careful not to make partisan statements but, rather, focuses on the young lives affected and in some ways distorted by the unhappy needs of their society's survival in an atomosphere of danger and constant threat.

The interest in its character contrasts is somewhere below the level of gripping and a major failure is the outcome, in which the two women in uniform are called upon to deviate from character for the sake of an ambiguously happy ending. All of that said, the film is in an area of great enough uniqueness to recommend it for its piece of the cultural puzzle that is Israel today.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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Smadar and Mirit
An Israeli patrol unit, easily distracted.

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