Political Film Society - Newsletter #241 -December 15, 2005

December 15, 2005


PrivateDirected by Saverio Costanzo, Private is a film about a Palestinian family that owns and lives in a home within the West Bank (though the filming is in Calabria, Italy). One day, the Israeli army takes over the house to serve as a command post between a Palestinian village and an Israeli settlement. The Israelis order the residents to vacate their home, but they decide to stay. For the next two weeks or so, the family must cope with the new rules of the houses, which is divided by Commander Ofer (played by Lior Miller) into three parts. Part A is the downstairs living room, where the family can live at night. Part B is the downstairs kitchen, where the family will be allowed to live in the daytime. Part C is the upstairs two floors that are off limits at all times, with punishment to be administered if there is any attempt to go up the staircase. Although the Palestinians can come and go in the daytime, they are not allowed any visitors. At first, Samia (played by Areen Omai), the mother, wants the family to leave, but the father, Mohammad (played by Mohammad Bakri), persuades them that they can only keep their house by staying, and that there are more ways to fight an enemy than to use violence. Various incidents prove his point. When soldiers tear down a greenhouse built by Mohammad and his eldest son out of wood frames and plastic sheets, Mohammad tells him not to retaliate but instead to rebuild--and to keep rebuilding until the soldiers let the greenhouse stay, which they ultimately do, though the son later secretly boobytraps the greenhouse with a hand grenade. The middle son, also a teenager, is invited to live with a friend, but stays when his father explains that splitting up the family will mean victory for the Israelis; staying together will defeat them by showing solidarity.

Mariam (played by Hend Ayoub), the oldest daughter, perhaps around twenty years old, fights by going upstairs when the coast is clear, then hides in a closet to spy on the soldiers, who are actually unhappy with the assignment. Spotted by the youngest boy as she risks punishment, she swears him to secrecy about her escapade upstairs in exchange for telling him fibs about what she sees. There are several tense moments. One night, the soldiers fire volleys, keeping the family awake and shaken, but the target practice stops. On another night, the five-year-old daughter is in the toilet when soldiers lock up the room containing the rest of the family; terrified, she must sleep near the locked door, though her father assures her through the keyhole that he is near. Yet another incident occurs when the soldiers depart for several hours; the family goes upstairs to inspect and to remove personal items. When Ofer returns, he puts his pistol to Mohammad's head, who is kneeling proudly, but he lacks the hostility to pull the trigger; Mohammad's punishment is a gentle slap in plain view of the rest of the family. Ultimately, the army contingent is reassigned, but that same night another contingent bursts into the house to establish itself. When the film ends, two soldiers are inspecting the boobytrapped greenhouse for the first time. Filmviewers can only guess what will happen next. One might characterize Private as a mixture of themes from Life Is Beautiful (1998) and Paradise Now (2005), but the strength of the nonviolent standoff so towers above both films that the Political Film Society has nominated Private for best film exposé and best film of 2005 in raising consciousness about the superiority of peaceful approaches to conflict. Although the story is based on an actual ongoing drama, there is no "based on a true story" title, doubtless because Private is an allegory of and an explanation for a conflict in which the Palestinians are winning by not losing and the Israelis are losing by not winning. MH