CATEGORIES Drama, Foreign Language, Tribeca, Theatrical Reviews, Cinematical Indie, Reviews, Tribeca Film Festival, Cinematical
In the city of Jerusalem, soldiers patrol the streets and perform routine ID checks. It is a place on constant terror alert, and the military presence helps to maintain a defense against the Palestinian threat. In the Israeli film Close to Home, most of these female soldiers are like Smadar (Smadar Sayar), a woman apathetically serving her compulsory duty who would rather goof off during her shift than confront Arabs. Recognized by her superiors as a possible slacker, Smadar is partnered up with a goody-goody named Mirit (Neama Shendar), who none of the women like. Just as in every other story of a mismatched pair forced to work together, the two slowly become friends.
Close to Home is no buddy-cop, action-comedy, though. Basically it follows the same pattern of the genre, but it leaves out the action and the comedy so all that is left is a predictable narrative with no entertainment appeal. Even with its likeable, attractive leads, the film is a lifeless effort from writer-directors Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hagar.
If foreign films are sometimes assumed to be slower and simpler, Close to Home is evidence that such traits aren't always accompanied by a more attentive or more incisive exploration of character or story. The film never really examines who Smadar and Mirit are or why they have the attitudes they have. They are merely divergent personalities for the sake of being divergent personalities. The progression of their relationship is also quite hackneyed, including a plot point where the duo, after becoming friendly, have a falling out and become enemies again.
While watching Close to Home I was constantly reminded of Feds, a worthless 1988 comedy that was clearly made in an attempt to ride the success of the Police Academy franchise, and stars Rebecca De Mornay and Mary Gross as a pair of opposites who are teamed up at the FBI Training Academy. I envisioned a sequel to that movie in which the now-graduated agents are assigned the task of patrolling the New York subways for potential terrorists. Even if the slapstick and cheap jokes of the original were not carried over and Feds II was just an easy-going story set against the backdrop of America's "War on Terror," I can't imagine the public reception of such a light approach would be very good.
In Close to Home the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dealt with so casually, not just by the filmmakers but also by the characters, that like an angry commuter in the film who points to an unattended bag on a bus as something the negligent soldiers should be noticing, I questioned the reality of such disregard for an obviously dire responsibility on the part of these women. After a bombing occurs in Smadar's and Mirit's sector, it makes sense for Smadar to become more dutiful, but instead Mirit slowly becomes more relaxed.
I am interested to know how Israeli audiences have received Close to Home. Does the subject matter really not hold much weight in a country that sees so many bombings? Is there truly indifference from young women forced to serve in the army? The film doesn't address these things for foreign viewers, and perhaps that makes it more accessible in some ways. It just doesn't make much sense to me, and by the film's end I was left with my own sort of unconcern for what I was being shown.