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Creating an accurate representation of a serious modern 'civil' conflict, whilst providing a personal story that can be related to, is a tough deal for filmmakers. We have the Killing Fields, about the horrors in Cambodia and Oliver Stone gave us Salvador about El Salvador and Saviour about the trouble in Bosnia, possibly the best example of the atrocities of 'ethnic cleansing'. Ethnic cleansing. I still can't get over how clinical it is made to sound, when the truth is that it basically involves wiping out a whole culture, a whole race, tantamount to genocide. In Palestine, conflict has been second nature for well over fifty years and it is only now that we see the first positive signs of progress since the Second World War.

Private
Film
The film kicks off in recent times so I'll provide a brief recap of the history just to set the scene, but please bare in mind that I am not offering an accurate political critique, merely my own personal observations. After the Nazis attempted to wipe out the Jews in the Second World War, the British decided to give the Jewish population a new country to inhabit. Figuring that Jerusalem sounds best, they gave them the country formerly known as Palestine to repopulate. There was a problem though; Palestine was full of Arab Palestinians, who were quite happy where they were. Still, the process goes ahead and the Arab population of Palestine is summarily 'relocated' to makeshift camps in the surrounding areas. They are not allowed to work there, so they have to commute back into Palestine during the day, but they must not be caught there after work hours. Or else.

In Private, we follow one large Arab family living in a household in Palestine. They seem like a happy family, despite all the usual teething problems amidst the kids of varying age, and a little tension between the parents. But their lives are thrown into turmoil when, one night, Israeli soldiers arrive and take over their house. They are allowed to stay but are instructed not to leave the living room over night and never, never, never to go upstairs. Or else. The proud father understandably refuses to leave his own house (especially in the knowledge that about forty-five minutes after leaving it would likely be demolished, paving the way for relocated Jews) and so his family are forced to live under the same roof as enemy soldiers.

Private
This is one of the few movies that I have come across that fully captures the essence of the personal and national struggle in a civil conflict. We feel this family in turmoil from the armed presence living amongst them, wanting to rebel, to overthrow them and to just be rid of them whilst at the same time the bigger picture is reflected—this kind of occurrence has been taking place throughout the area, for over half a Century. We get a sense of what the two sides are feeling as well—their own internal conflicts played out in some very clever scenes. The younger children just don't understand why they can't use the toilet in the night, one of the elder boys wants to fight back, the eldest daughter is desperately curious to go upstairs and the wife wants to take the family and leave. Throughout all of this the father's resolute determination to stay—embodied in his insistence that they keep rebuilding the flimsy greenhouse every single time the soldiers randomly kick it apart—is bewildering, and worthy of great admiration.

The film is also clever enough not to make the soldiers into clichéd monsters. Sure, they are doing a monstrous job, but they were all drafted in to do it and it is clear that some of them do not like having to and even try to fight against it. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live in a country where your home could be taken over by soldiers at the drop of a hat. Nor could I imagine what it would be like living in a country where you are forcefully conscripted into the armed forces in order to invade other people's homes. Private perfectly captures both of these things, bringing it right home into your living room in a imposing and oppressive way that few Westerners will be familiar with. It is a moving, harrowing, tense movie, shot in a documentary-style that only adds to the realism. It may not be a very pleasant watch and the closing scene introduces a slight unwelcome ambiguity but this is still a movie that needs to be seen.

Private
Video
Private is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphic widescreen transfer that is extremely difficult to rate because the film is so low budget, filmed using camcorders in such a 'real' way. The biggest problem is the contrast—everything is too dark, but again this is probably because they were trying to make the situation yet more threatening and imposing, making you feel what it would be like to be desperately trying to make out shapes in the dark. There is also a heavy layer of grain running throughout, again adding to the authenticity of the production but occasionally a little too heavy not to be distracting. The picture exhibits a great deal of softness—very little is clear and the detail is average at best. The colour scheme is as dilapidated as the setting, with a slightly faded approach taken with respect of most of the colours on offer. Overall it could be regarded as a horrendous transfer—one of the worst I have ever seen—but this is probably largely intended and only certainly adds to the feel of the this kind of production.

Audio
The main track is a lacklustre Dolby Digital 2.0 affair which is reasonable at best. The Hebrew, Arabic and English (their common language) vocals and dialogue are clear—for the most part—and the clever score is ominous and brooding, whilst never intrusive, only adding to the tense situation. The mix offers few effects—perhaps a little gunfire to rattle your room and one notable music track from a car radio, which provides the only kind of bass. The closing track is also strikingly powerful, at least in comparison with the rest of the movie, but it is possibly one of the worst chosen tracks in movie history - utterly unsuitable and positively crass with ludicrously blunt whaling lyrics like 'and the Jews killed the Arabs and the Arabs killed the Jews'. Still, aside from this bad taste at the end of the movie, it is an atmospheric track, limited as it is to the frontal array. There are English subtitles which—although applied through triggering your DVD's subtitle stream—thankfully only translate the foreign languages rather than running through the English-spoken scenes as well.

Private
Extras
First up there is a behind the scenes featurette entitled ‘Not Only for a Piece of Land’, which runs for the best part of an hour. Briefly showcasing a little footage that was not included in the final cut, it features on-set interviews with the cast—real life victims of the Palestinian situation. The woman who plays the mother explains the situation of her own family and then gets into an interesting discussing with the male lead, who plays the father, about the reasons behind terrorism. Mirroring his screen persona's views (probably because this is such a true-to-life affair) he talks about how the invasion of the Jewish settlers and the subsequent deaths and mistreatment of the Palestinian refugees is not a reason to go around the world blowing up buses-full of innocent people. Heated arguments aside, we get plenty of footage of them shooting the film, some rehearsal footage, and most interestingly some comments from the kids explaining what they feel about what is going on. The director talks about how the whole situation is about survival now—just trying to keep on living and overall this documentary is an extremely moving and emotionally fraught production all to itself.

Next up we get thirty-four minutes of live questions and answers with the director Saverio Costanzo, discussing various aspects of the production, oddly starting with his choice of track for the final scene in the film. Now I've already mentioned just how terrible and incongruous with the rest of the movie this track is, but the director proceeds to explain why he chose it—citing the very lyrics that I hated as being a strong point. I suspect the difference in viewpoint is largely due to the fact that English is not his mother language, so the song sounds much more poetic and romantic, whereas all I hear is crass wailing! Anyway, he spends a good few minutes talking about this before moving on to discuss the Israeli soldiers, the balance that has to be shown in this kind of movie, his reasons behind setting the whole movie in one house, the language problems and—most interestingly—what eventually happened to the real people that it was based on. It is a very interesting addition that answers a lot of the questions that many people would have come up with. Finally there is a two-minute trailer that gives you a taste of what it is about.

Private
Overall
Private is at once both terrifying and worthy of admiration in its creation of a tense, realistic portrayal of an ongoing conflict that many of us are largely oblivious to. It tells the tale is such a truthful, two-sided way that it blasts away so many bigger budget pretentious productions with its simplicity. The technical specifications are in line with the style of filming and the general atmosphere it is trying to convey, although a 5.1 track might have added to the atmosphere a little. Anything lacking is easily made up for by two fabulous extras—a thorough and revealing documentary and some insightful comments from the director. It might be tough to stomach but this is the kind of movie that simply needs to be seen, particularly over here in the West.


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