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Private

cast: Mohammed Bakri, Lior Miller, Hend Ayoub, Tomer Russo, and Arin Omary

director: Saverio Costanzo

90 minutes (15) 2005
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Tom Johnstone
On the cover of the DVD, the title of this tense, documentary-style drama is preceded by "in a time of terror, nothing is..." Italian director Costanzo is keen to draw parallels between his characters' private lives and the public world that overshadows them. In this he is helped by his choice of subject matter, one where the separation between the public and private spheres is a luxury few can afford. In Private, we see in brutally intimate detail, what happens when a group of Israeli soldiers occupy a Palestinian house, placing its occupants under what amounts to house arrest. Thus the house becomes a microcosm for the occupied territories. The Israeli commander divides the house into three areas, mirroring the arbitrary partitioning of Palestinian land. The soldiers take over the top floor, forcing the family to sleep on sofas in the living room and denying them access to the bathroom.

The drawback to Costanzo's approach is in the characterisation of the family, particularly the father, who comes across as an over-bearing patriarch, first bullying his family to stay in the house, when his wife would rather leave, then bullying them to be more obedient to the humiliating rules imposed on them by the Israeli soldiers. Perhaps he would seem more sympathetic if the family were dirt-poor Palestinian peasants with nowhere else to go, but he is an academic, and their living conditions seem relatively affluent. In one scene, we see him hassling his rebellious oldest daughter to study medicine. The implication is that he can afford to take them elsewhere, but he is making a stand. However he is able to escape from the occupied house during the day (along with the children whom he takes to school), while his downtrodden wife is trapped at home all day with the soldiers.

But then again, perhaps he is not supposed to be sympathetic. Judging by the scene where he forces himself on his miserable doormat of a wife, seemingly not. This would extend the analogy between the occupied house and the Occupied Territories, with the father representing the paternalistic Palestinian leadership. Certainly the most sympathetic characters are the children, particularly the eldest daughter. The most nail-biting scenes in the film are those when she sneaks into a wardrobe in the upstairs' forbidden zone. This gives us fleeting glimpses of the tensions being played out between the Israeli soldiers, which we from her viewpoint through a crack in the door. The interplay between the soldiers is comical, a welcome piece of light relief heightened by the suspense of expecting her to be discovered at any moment. At one point, one of them briefly catches her eye. Luckily he's one of the more slack and unwilling conscripts, and turns a blind eye.

However, perhaps more interesting than the film is the main special feature, the behind-the-scenes documentary, Not Only For A Piece Of Land. It shows the reactions of the cast to the subject matter of the film. This is of particular note because of the mixture of Palestinians and Israelis acting in the film. Many of the actors have experiences that mirror those of the parts they are playing, for example we hear the actress who plays the mother recalling being evicted from her house by Israeli soldiers. In an interview with the Israelis who play the soldiers, it becomes impossible to tell if they or the characters they are playing are being interviewed. But then with universal conscription, every adult Israeli has experience of army service. This featurette gives us a fascinating opportunity to see Israelis and Palestinians freely and frankly discussing the problems of occupation, even forming tentative bonds of friendship, in a way that would be impossible in Israel's segregated society.
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