Film review: “Private”

Winner of a Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival (Best Film) and Bronze Leopord (for Mohammad Bakri’s performance), “Private” is a thought provoking, psychological drama, based on real events.

Mohammad, played by famous Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri (Haifa, 1997; Tales of Three Jewels, 1995; director of Jenin Jenin, 2002), is a Palestinian teacher and active pacifist. He lives with his family in a home located in an area between a Palestinian village and Israeli settlements. His wife Samia (Areen Omari) feels unsafe in these surroundings and would like to move, but Mohammad’s pride does not allow him and his middle class family to be labeled with the status of refugee. He decides to stay.

The feature début by Italian documentary maker Saverio Costanzo is based on a true story of a forced occupation imposed on a Palestinian family by Israeli soldiers. It does not describe the public, political aspects of conflict, but instead, exposes the private side. Mohammad is a man who insists in seeing the good in others but he is also a Palestinian, he lives for his principles and is ready to accept even the most extreme consequences.

Located between a Palestinian village and an Israeli settlement, Mohammad’s home is of strategic importance to the Israeli army and their commanding officer Ofer (Lior Miller), who wants the Palestinian family to leave. After a gunfight ensues outside the families’ home the Israeli army occupies the second floor of the house for “security reasons” and asks the family to leave their home. Mohammad, a resolute pacifist refuses to leave, the house, he says, “is the border of his dignity.” Ofer, the Israeli commander, divides the home into strictly controlled areas. The family is allowed to stay in the living room and the Israeli soldiers occupy the second floor. If the family dare to stray from their small area they are told they will be shot.

As this arrangement continues, Mohammed finds the situation he has placed his family in putting severe strains on their relationship. The family splits between those trying to understand the fathers’ stance and those who simply cannot and those who find themselves strangely attracted by the violence.

Whilst Mohammad’s principles seem to have struck a chord with his oldest daughter Mariam (Hend Ayoub), who regularly sneaks upstairs and hides in a closest to spy on the soldiers, whom the viewer gets to know through her eyes, and Mohammad’s teenage son Jamal (Marco Alsaying), who becomes ominously drawn to other solutions. Mariam’s fascination of the soldiers’ lives fuels something of an understanding. While she finds herself accepting her father’s viewpoint, the film shows Jamal becoming increasingly attracted to armed struggle.

This tense docudrama (filmed over the course of one month in Calabria, Italy) shows the experience of children and their parents in a surreal situation, each in their own way. The Israeli soldiers go on with their military duties, and through the little espionage visits of Mariam to their territory upstairs, we get to know their human faces.

Based on a real life situation (the family in question are apparently still living with their imposed house guests on their roof), Saverio Constanzo has focussed on the personal effects of conflict. By removing the politics we are left with a study on the ‘private’. Bringing together class Palestinian and Israeli actors, the first time this has been achieved since the beginning of the second Intifada, the film gives a true picture of events that have taken place on a daily basis.

Arjan El Fassed is one of the founders of The Electronic Intifada

Related Links

  • BY TOPIC: Films
  • Nablus: “I feel as if I was raped this morning”, Arjan El Fassed (3 August 2002)
  • Nablus: “Our apartment building was occupied”, Yacoub H. Alul (4 October 2002)