An outsider’s take on a literal insider’s view, Italian director Saverio Costanzo’s to-all-appearances authentic Private—filmed in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, but with Italian backing—looks at the Middle East conflict through the eyes of a besieged Palestinian family. Confined to their home (and mostly one room) when a group of Israeli soldiers invades and sets up camp, a professor of literature, his wife, and his children must decide whether to stand their ground. The mother and the elder son see little point in staying—better to abandon their home than to live in it as prisoners—but the father (Mohammad Bakri) views leaving as capitulation and imagines a future where his grown children blame him for not holding fast.
For their part, the Israeli soldiers are shown as something less than monstrous (in a tepid signifier of pacifism, one of them is seen playing the flute), but the sheer irrationality of their presence seems self-evident. Partly based on a real instance of home occupation, Private nevertheless uses the abode as metaphor. The house is divided into three zones: Palestinian, Israeli, and neutral, with occasional traffic among the sectors and sudden outbreaks of violence. Costanzo employs handheld DV for realism (Calabria had to stand in for the occupied territories), but the film is also frustratingly tethered to allegory, with a tendency to reduce characters to types. Private never reconciles its conflicting impulses, and consequently, the human impact of the struggle—so powerfully explored in Paradise Now and The Syrian Bride—never acquires the emotional weight it should. The semi-absurdist closer amounts to little more than a knee-jerk declaration of hopelessness.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 8, 2005