Despite its militaristic presence, Private refers not to any of the soldiers found within its narrative, but rather the intimate and the personal. Set during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it documents the invasion of a family home by occupying forces. The Israelis take over the second floor, whilst the Palestinians, a family of seven and mostly young children, are effectively held prisoner at night in their own living room. Yet rather than any number of routes afforded by such a setup, director Saverio Costanza chooses to focus in on the family tensions. Thus our characters do not serve as a microcosm for the overall political situation, nor is this a film which takes advantage of the absurdities inherent in such a situation à la Buñuel or Kusturica, nor is it a work in a similar vein to Pacific Heights, say, or Panic Room.
Of course, you could argue the respective merits of such approaches, but as it is Private is able to gain plenty of mileage from its inauspicious intentions. Costanza opens the film before the occupation, as it were, takes place and is therefore able to take us first into the family’s life. As such when their minor tensions (revolving around homework and the like) become all the more pronounced as we progress, they never come across as unnecessarily melodrama or histrionic – and in doing so we gain a greater acceptance of the situation itself. Indeed, the dramatic validity never comes into question, rather the suspense is simply allowed to build as the fear understandably grows stronger.
Costanza does so in a number of ways. Firstly, he plays up the repetition of the situation. The progressive days are rarely conveyed in lengthy scenes, but rather choice snippets here and there. As such the elements which sink in most forcibly are the ones which remain the same: the door being locked at night; the large family crammed into a tiny room as they make do with the most perfunctory of sleeping arrangements. Secondly, Costanza makes a fascinating figure out the father. Educated, authoritarian and principled, he refuses to move from his home even though the rest of the family read this as either stubbornness or sheer bloody-mindedness. Essentially, their misfortune could be seen as coming down to him and his actions (or rather lack of them), and such could be rectified were he to change his mind.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Costanza has chosen to shoot Private on DV. Indeed, the decision proves integral as it allows for so much to happen. On the one hand, it’s perfectly suited to picking up the tiniest moments without Costanza being required to force his hand. On the other, it also proves extremely capable of registering the confusion and fear redolent in its action scenes. We see what the characters see (there would appear to be little, if any, artificial light so this becomes even more the case) and as such feel what they feel. Moreover, the camera is able to get exactly where the characters are – whether it be in the back of a car or hidden inside a wardrobe – and as such the sense of identification is enhanced again. In fact, this also brings in an element of voyeurism as we peer through window or the crack of a wardrobe door.
Yet whilst there’s much to appreciate running through Private, there is a feeling that it’s not exploited the material fully. Whilst demonstrating an admirable restraint, it is also perhaps ultimately too low key to fully engage. Based on a genuine situation, Costanza has admitted in interviews that he only took this as a starting point rather than dramatise events that have been going on now for over a decade (amazingly, the family is still “occupied” to this day). Given the remoteness of his drama, it’s questionable as to whether this was the correct choice.
Transferred anamorphically at a ratio of 1.78:1, the film demonstrates muted colours, poor contrast and other technical problems. Yet given the budget and the manner in which Private was filmed on DV, this is exactly what we should expect. Indeed, there would appear to be little wrong with the disc itself, though given the circumstances this is hard to judge. As for the soundtrack, we get the original Dolby Stereo (the dialogue is mostly in Arabic, with touches of English and Hebrew) and this again seems to be an accurate representation. Certainly, that means that the dialogue isn’t always completely audible, but then this would appear to be intentional.
As for extras, Metrodome have done extremely well with this release and offered some notable pieces. Of course, the theatrical trailer is hardly of the utmost importance, but then we do get a 34-minute Q&A session with Costanza (filmed at the ICA Cinema in London) and a 57-minute ‘making of’ documentary. The former is the more interesting piece here given its depth and range. Not only do we get a discussion of the film’s production, but also its narrative. Indeed, Costanza is met with intelligent questions and provides intelligent answers, both sides taking the Q&A completely seriously. Moreover, Metrodome have also chaptered this piece thereby allowing for easy access.
The second piece, entitled ‘Not Only for a Piece of Land’, is comparatively disappointing as its length does quite equate to added depth. Certainly, it offers more than a standard EPK package would, but then its impressionist manner means that a good editor would have been a valid option. It’s by no means a poor piece, though those wishing for a more direct approach to the film’s making should stick with the Q&A.
As with the main feature, optional English subtitles are available where applicable.