Italian documentary filmmaker, 31 year-old Saverio Costanzo’s feature debut, PRIVATE, is a deeply affecting story about a Palestinian family living under the grinding trauma of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Specifically, Israeli soldiers occupy their home, which they refuse to leave. It is based on a true story Costanzo says he learned from a journalist when he was in Palestine. Both Israelis and Palestinians act in the film. The director started the filming in the Middle East, but it became too risky and they completed the filming in Calabria, Italy.
Mohammad, played by the award-winning Mohammed Bakri, is a principled and educated Muslim father, committed to standing his ground and resisting when Israeli soldiers commandeer his home as their outpost. The taut script deftly delineates each character, and the script and direction reveal a deep understanding for authentic human interactions, reminiscent of another recent Italian film THE BEST OF YOUTH.
The mother, Samiah (Areen Omari) wants to flee to keep her children safe, but Mohammad believes that staying is the right course of action. The teenaged boy is always slightly physically separate from the rest of the family; his facial expressions and body language betray an active internal life centering around fantasies of revenge. Non-actor Palestinian-Italians play the child roles capably.
Through the eyes of the rebellious oldest daughter, skillfully played by Hend Ayoub, who sneaks upstairs to spy on the soldiers, we sees that the soldiers are humans who are part of the Israeli war machine. This scene can be seen in any conflict, and is reminiscent of the scenes of American troops raiding Iraqi homes documented in OCCUPATION DREAMLAND. The next morning an American troop empathizes with the Iraqi families.
Costanzo uses hand-held digital cameras, giving the sense of reality and immediacy. He uses non-Palestinian music to express the idea that this is a human story with universal themes. In an interview he said he wanted to appeal to Westerners to identify with the Palestinian history. During the closing scene, a song by pacifist songwriter Roger Waters has the disturbing lyrics: "Germans kill the Jews, the Jew kill the Arabs, Arabs kill the hostages." Costanzo says he used the song as a "cold musical backdrop" for an emotional crescendo.
Following the recent release of Hany Abu-Assad's Academy Award-nominated PARADISE NOW, the first Palestinian film with wide release in this country, PRIVATE continues to tell the previously unheard individual stories of Palestinians. A film like this, which focuses on the lives of family members suffering under military rule, is more affecting than reading about it in the news.
PRIVATE has won about a dozen awards and honors at international film festivals. On June 6 it will be available on DVD from Netflix and limited video stores, or can be purchased from Amazon or directly from the distributor at: arabfilm.com.
For Movie Magazine International, this is Joan Widdifield.
© 2006 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 5/24/06
Directed by: Saverio Costanzo (feature debut); Palenstinian Issues - In Arabic with English subtitles