Private (Costanzo, 2004) explores ownership of territory through the a plot in which Israeli soldiers occupy the house of a middle class Palestinian family, relegating them to one small section of their beloved home:
Mohammad […] 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. (El Fassed, 2005)
The different responses of each of the family members to the occupation of their home mirrors the divisions in Palestinian society. The father, Mohammed, refuses to leave saying that “Being a refugee is the same as being nothing (Costanzo, 2004)”. His eldest daughter, Mariam, tries to understand him, but the rest of the family want to leave and aren’t so sympathetic. One of Mohammed’s sons, Jamal, begins to empathise with the militant Palestinians that he sees on TV and plants a grenade in the family’s garden intended for the Israeli soldiers.
The relegation of the family to one small section of their former home is a clear allegory for post-1948 Palestine. But the line between allegory and documentary in Private is not clear. Costanzo is primarily a documentary filmmaker (Private is his first fictional film) and the events in the film are based on a true story (Holden, 2005) in which “the family in question are apparently still living with their imposed house guests on their roof (El Fassed, 2005)”. The aesthetic of the film, which was shot hand-held on digital video, also lends the film an unstaged documentary tone (Holden, 2005).
So is the film an allegory or a realistic representation of actual events? It seems to be both. Despite its intensely personal focus Costanzo humanises the Israeli occupiers, showing them to be as conflicted about Israel’s activities towards Palestine as Mohammed’s family is about whether to stay. This refusal to paint the soldiers as cartoon villains only highlights Costanzo’s criticism of the regime which puts people in these situations. And so, in blurring documentary and fiction, Private blurs personal and political by using the former to brutally critique the latter.
Costanzo, S., (2004), Private, Istituto Luce
El Fassed, A., (2005), Film review: “Private” [online], The Electronic Intifada, Available from: http://electronicintifada.net/content/film-review-private/3492 [Accessed on 28 November 2016]
Holden, S., (2005), A House Divided: Palestinian Captives and Israeli Captors [online], New York Times, Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/18/movies/18priv.html?_r=0 [Accessed on 28 November 2016]