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    The danger upstairs

    Elemental fear and the struggle for dignity thicken the air in a Palestinian family's house taken over by Israeli soldiers in the tense thriller "Private."


    Saverio Costanzo has a two-state solution for the Middle East — one state in the living room and the other in the bedroom.

    Directed by: Saverio Costanzo.
    Written by: Camilla Costanzo, Saverio Costanzo, Alessio Cremonini, Sayed Oashua.
    Cast: Hend Ayoub, Mohammad Bakri, Lior Miller, Arin Omary, Tomer Russo.
    Cinematography: Luigi Martinucci.
    Edited by: Francesca Calvelli.
    In Arabic with English subtitles.
    Walter Reade Theater Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam (212) 875-5600 Tue March 29 at 9pm Thu March 31 at 6pm

    New Directors / New Films 2005
    • Overview
    • The Hero
    • Private
    • South of the Clouds
    • Official site
    The Italian filmmaker's debut, "Private," is a concentrated distillation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the crucible of one family's occupied house. It's a modern, well-to-do family with a bright future — the highly educated father helps his youngest son with his English homework, and the oldest daughter is about to go study medicine in Germany. But that will only happen if they survive the deadly force that comes knocking at — if not down — their door.

    "From today, this house belong to the Israel army," the commanding officer barks in English, the only language these two groups have in common. The family is to be locked into the living room at night and is not allowed upstairs under any circumstances.

    "For your safety and your family's safety," the officer warns, "do not play with me any fucking games."

    The father, Mohammad, tries to steel his family's patience, referring to the soldiers as "our new neighbors" while refusing to abandon the house to them entirely, in spite of the constant threat of violence from inside and out. There's debate within the family and from their friends, but the dad is unmoved. Much of what is said is meant to resonate with the greater Israeli-Palestinian struggle.

    While they rebuild their outdoor greenhouse, which the soldiers have demolished in order to have a clear rifle-sight view of the property, Mohammad's increasingly outraged son threatens, "If they tear it down, I'll show them!"

    "If they tear it down again, we'll build it again," his more sagacious father answers. "And if they tear it down again, we'll build it again — until they tire of it."

    Human nature being what it is, a family of seven can't really be contained in a locked living room. Soon, someone has found a way to unlock the prison. Soon, someone is plotting revenge. Soon, someone is thinking about sneaking upstairs to see what's really going on. These are not canaries in a cage — they're people with a combination of curiosity, good and bad will. Every move they make carries the possibility of reprisal and death — but no one can avoid moving for long.

    The tension running through "Private" is simple but unrelenting. The Italian-made, Palestinian-set film shares much with the best Dogme films — the stripped-down, naturalistic, life-in-a-petri-dish intensity that comes from cramming actors into a space, turning on a handheld camera and just letting them go. (The film does break two Dogme commandments — since it includes music and, obviously, guns — so it may technically not qualify.) With so much anger and danger cooped up within four hypermilitarized walls, it captures an elemental level of fear, as well as the struggle to maintain dignity, in the struggle between soldiers, insurgents and civilians. And the bigger picture — the struggle for humanity amid occupation — is never lost on us. It embodies all the frustrations of a people, writ small.

    MARCH 24, 2005

    Reader comments on Private:

  • best movie   from Eyal, Jun 23, 2005
  • Re: best movie   from ateeq, Nov 21, 2006
  • [no subject]   from fatima, Aug 28, 2005
  • [no subject]   from samah talalah, May 20, 2009
  • The film Private   from Ariel Keepelstein, Nov 8, 2010

  • Post a comment on "Private"