Movie Review by Dan Spiers
Starring: Hend Ayoub, Mohammed Bakri, Lior Miller, Arin Omary, Tomer Russo
Director: Saverio Costanzo
Based on a true story, PRIVATE is the remarkable tale of a Palestinian family who refused to flee their family home after its occupation by the Israeli army. Directed by Saverio Costanzo and filmed in Italy, it is the first Palestinian-Israeli cast assembled since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000.
The film takes place in and around the Bakri family home, on the edge of Israeli settlements in Palestine. One evening, Israeli soldiers enter the house, herd the family into the living room, and upon locking the door use the rest of the property as an outpost. When the sun rises, the door is unlocked and the Bakri family informed that their home is Israeli army property.
Commander Ofer (Lior Miller) makes an offer he assumes will be refused. The family can either remain on the lower floor of the house, incarcerated in their living room after nightfall, or leave the house completely. Rather than leading his family away Mohammed Bakri announces they will stay and remain until the army has gone.
The first images we see in the movie are of standard domesticity. The camera moves in and around the family at close range, the sound of airplanes falling heavily on the house totally ignored by the family members. And these two aspects, the close proximity of the camera to events and its resultant sense of claustrophobia are central to the impact of the movie.
For by keeping the audience close to the characters and overwhelming them with sound Costanzo manages to create a real sense of place. When the army invades the house, confusion reigns. Subtitles disappear so the audience is unaware of who is saying what to whom, the images are indistinct, the sound cacophonous and the camera seemingly dragged along by events.
The intensity of the environment is maintained throughout the film. Every night we return to the cramped quarters of the locked living room where the seven members of the family lie side by side. With the army living upstairs and the family downstairs, the scenes in which the oldest daughter Mariam (Hend Ayoub) hides in the upstairs closet to observe the Israelis are spellbinding. Whilst Mariam is coming to understand the pacifism of her father, her brother Jamal (Marco Alsaying) is dreaming of a martyr’s death, reacting in the opposite way to his father’s stubborn idealism.
The alternative visions of the future represented by these two characters are mirrored upstairs within the ranks of the soldiers. Like the family, they are a complex set of individuals with contrasting attitudes towards the occupation and how to best serve their country. Their presence maintains the films admirable attempts at objectivity within an environment that evidently polarizes opinions.
PRIVATE manages to humanize a struggle which often seems to be just rubble and destruction played out before us on long range lenses. It is gripping, insightful and honest. By constantly returning to images of the rising sun Constanzo is clearly referring us to the cyclical nature of Israeli-Palestinian history. Time is clearly passing and though the film does offer hope, its conclusion questions whether anything will ever really change.