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Pier Giorgio Bellocchio,
A Palestinian family with five children lives outside town, near Israeli settlements. Samia, the wife, wants to leave; so does one teen son. Mohammad, the patriarch, is adamant that he is staying. Two of his adolescent children want to fight. His is the passive aggression of non-violent witness. Israeli soldiers burst into the home, taking over the second floor. At night, the family is locked in the living room. We see the effects of the occupation on the children and on the marriage. Through the eyes of Miriam, the older daughter, we watch the soldiers from her hiding place. Jamal, the eldest son, sets a trap with a grenade. Characters call upon Allah. Chaos and death are close. Written by
An Overly Mannered Effort to Humanize the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict
The first half of "Private" is frustrating as a set piece of European intellectualism and inauthenticity strained to establish a logic puzzle mind game, but the second half rises to the level of universal humanity.
There have been many movies about the stubborn old idealist who infuriates his family with his implacability ("Man of La Mancha," "The Field," "Straight Story," etc.) but co-writer/debut director Saverio Costanzo sets this one as a barely-believable Shakespeare-quoting, educated, middle class, secular Palestinian holding on to his house and his very large family amidst the volatility of the West Bank territories.
Each member of the family represents a type that has some similarity to the family in "Raisin in the Sun" -- the exhausted housewife who just wants her kids to be safe, the beautiful eldest, enscarfed daughter who argues against leaving for a European education to the apathetic sports-mad teen boy radicalized by his conflicts with Israelis to the traumatized little girl and the big-eyed curious, adorable little brother.
With much of the film shot in dark as shaky, pseudo-documentary digital video like night vision goggles, the forced comparison to "Diary of Anne Frank" doesn't quite hold up as the family is locked into their living room only at night by occupying Israeli soldiers as it is a principle not survival itself that the father is insisting upon. They seem to have complete daily freedom to shop and go to school (they say "madrassa" on the soundtrack but we see them do math homework not rotely memorize The Koran), but not to host friends.
While the film does well build up the tension of this nightly, stressful ritual, that is also true in nonpolitical hostage films from "Petrified Forest," to "Key Largo," "Desperate Hours," and on and on. The Israeli soldiers are as much types as the soldiers in the TV series "Over There." There's the barking sergeant, the sensitive intellectual and the bored joker just doing his job, but with the casual mention that these frustrated reservists are commuting distance from home, as was seen in "Kippur." The film is also unfair in only hinting at what attacks they, let alone their families at their home towns, have endured from Palestinian civilians to make them so aggressive and jumpy.
While it is ironic that the Palestinians and the Israelis have to speak broken English to each other to communicate, the larger themes are confused in perception to the audience because it is not clear what the participants do and do not understand as most of the conversations are translated for us in the subtitles. This is important because the second half of the film reaches an intriguing point where each side slowly starts to perceive each other as individuals and not as just "the other."
The turning point is when the oldest daughter breaks the rules restricting the family downstairs and spies on the soldiers billeted upstairs. Motivated initially by some kind of revenge fantasy, she is gradually overcome by natural curiosity, and perhaps voyeurism as they are hunky young men, and begins to parse out their relationships from their body language and activities, which she later relates fantastically to her equally curious younger brother. Shot only from her viewpoint, we begin to realize that a narrow sliver is really how each side has been seeing the other all along.
The film leaves no doubt that such insights are brief blips in the ongoing struggles between both sides that leave tragedy in the wake of the continued cycle of miscommunications and misperceptions.
Oddly, this is the second recent Italian film about terrorism (Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, notte)) that uses a Pink Floyd-related song too heavy-handedly on the soundtrack (here a cover of "Perfect Sense, Part 1" from Roger Waters's Amused to Death).
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