One of the things to be gained from watching obscure independent and foreign movies is a chance to see people and lives and situations very different from oneself and what one has an opportunity to observe in real life. The life of impoverished immigrants living in semi-slavery in Ghosts, or even that of the bestiality practitioners in Zoo, for instance.
Close to Home is another good example of that. It chronicles a group of female Israeli soldiers patrolling the streets of Jerusalem, focusing especially on two partners (Smadar Sayar and Naama Schendar). Most of the women, including the two main characters, look to be in their late teens. Their job is to fulfill their quota of stopping and recording ID from a certain number of suspicious characters each day. (Meaning anyone who is Arab or looks Arab; the “profiling” is conscious and blatant.)
While I’ve seen my share of fiction and nonfiction movies about Israel and the Middle East, I’ve never seen one about internal security from the perspective of Israeli soldiers, especially female soldiers.
Really you’ve got two main things going on here. On the one hand, you get to know the soldiers as individuals, and to follow them as they go through their own version of coming-of-age teenage girl stuff. On the other hand, in some scenes more than others you are reminded of the political context of all this–the maintenance of an apartheid system, where the soldiers function as the employees of Israeli Jews, and as an occupying army in their interaction with Israeli Arabs.
I found the first to be moderately interesting. The soldiers certainly aren’t your typical soldiers, or even typical female soldiers. Military service in Israel is mandatory for both sexes, so it’s unlike in the United States where you’re getting a wildly disproportionate number of lesbians and poor people with no other options. It’s more of a cross-section of women in their teens and twenties from a first world country, which means they’re mostly conventionally attractive, and reasonably educated and well-spoken.
But they’re also teenage girls, so they get crushes, and giggle together, and bicker with each other, and all the rest. They’re decidedly lax about the rules while on patrol, and much of the movie depicts their trying to elude their officers, who drive around like truant officers trying to catch them taking unauthorized breaks and smoking and eating and such. (One girl spends a week in the stockade for dancing while on duty.)
So seeing how they spend their time, and watching their relationships develop held my interest OK. But the political dynamics were even a little more interesting to me.
Some of the soldiers are fed up with harassing Arabs and either outright refuse to do it (which lands them in the stockade), or reluctantly do the minimum they can get by with. (Though in the latter case, it appears not to always be for political motives, but sometimes just out of laziness and not wanting to bother.)
The tension of the encounters between the soldiers and the Arabs is palpable. At times the soldiers are positively apologetic about having to do what they’re doing. The responses of the Arabs vary. Some are totally cooperative and respond with an exaggerated politeness to avoid any possibility of trouble. Some are angry and at least momentarily verbally defiant. Some respond with a calm, civil disobedience style non-cooperation.
But the movie does not simplistically portray the soldiers as having to carry out a brutal and unjust policy against innocent victims. For during the course of the movie, an Arab sets off a bomb in the area the soldiers are (lackadaisically) patrolling, causing numerous civilian casualties. So it’s not as if there’s no reason to be monitoring things and trying to keep control of the Arab population.
That’s not to say the policy–or set of policies–is justified, just that there are pros as well as cons. As would be true of any alternative.
The movie drew me in to some extent, and I welcomed the chance to experience a part of the world I wasn’t real familiar with, but it doesn’t stand out to me as a particularly terrific or memorable movie. I’ll say above average.