Based partly on first-hand experiences, Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hagar’s Close to Home depicts the day-to-day travails of two 18-year-old Israeli girls fulfilling their mandatory military service by patrolling the streets of Jerusalem. Mirit (Naama Schendar) is a dutiful, conscientious individual prone to suppressing personal desires and following orders, a disposition at odds with that of partner Smadar (Smadar Sayar), a defiant nonconformist whose self-interest habitually trumps devotion to duty. Inevitable clashes arrive shortly after they’re assigned to check the IDs of anyone who looks like an Arab, with Mirit’s sense of obligation contrasted by Smadar’s preference for disobeying rules (no smoking, no eating, no entering shops), a conflict that’s heightened by the looming specter of no-nonsense commander Dubek (Irit Suki).
Bilu and Hagar’s film, reportedly the first to tackle the subject of Israeli women in the army, is full of perceptive details about female soldiers’ routines, from the way they tip each other off about random inspections (via disallowed cellphones), to the pressures of doing their job in a professional and efficient, but not disrespectful, manner. It’s an occasionally fascinating glimpse inside a particular strata of Israeli life, bolstered by Shendar and Sayar’s natural, underplayed portraits of girls uncomfortably trapped in their own limbo-like border crossing between childhood and adulthood. Mirit and Smadar’s general lack of politicization provides some commentary on conscription—specifically, the way drafts ensnare the timid and apathetic and, consequently, produce less-than-sterling safeguards against attack—yet it drains the film of any larger impact as a piece about Israeli-Palestinian relations.
A sudden bombing near their beat not only reminds the girls of the magnitude of their responsibility but also brings them closer together. However, the episodic story’s plethora of trivial romantic, humorous, and family-related incidents overshadows those brief moments (including two separate events on a city bus) meant to critique the system at large. Scenes of intrusive and occasionally abrasive ID requests convey disapproval with a policing policy that’s characterized as degrading and ineffective, though such cursory condemnation is eventually sapped of any resonance by Close to Home‘s dogged focus on the selfish, adolescent protestations and rebellions of its me-first protagonists.