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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Private

Film Review: Private

By Sonia Nettnin

Mariam does not want to leave her family to study medicine in Germany. She wants to stay and fight the occupation. How can she make her father understand?(Photo courtesy of CPFF)

Opening night of the 4th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival brought Director Saverio Constanzo’s psychological thriller, “Private,” to the big screen. Inspired by a true story, the film won the Golden Leopard at the 2004 Locarno Film Festival.

Mohammad Bakri argues with his wife, Samia, about not leaving their home. It lies on the border between an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian village. In a controversial discussion, Mohammad stresses the importance of principle because “being a refugee means not being.”

He continues with a line from Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”: “to be or not to be, that is the question,” which emphasizes Mohammad’s contempt toward Zionist oppressors for their humiliating treatment of the Palestinians on their native land.

Their life situation is the allegorical outcome of the Oslo Accords: there is no peace, settlements expand through land confiscation and Palestinian life conditions are worse. Mohammad and his wife’s friend, Zeinab, depend on their faith in God to see them through these experiences.

Mohammad is a proponent of nonviolent resistance, and he will not allow Israeli soldiers to strip him of his values. He tells his son, Jamal that if the soldiers tear down their greenhouse, then he and his son will rebuild it until the soldiers tire of their destruction.

However, Samia’s concern is for their children’s’ lives, as well as their emotional and psychological well-being. A night of gunshots wears her to the point of giving up. The children absorb the tension and the mixed feelings between their parents. It affects their concentration on schoolwork and their happiness. The military occupation makes the oldest son, Yousef, feel like he will die any day. It is the quiet before a military occupation’s storm. Sleep is not peaceful, which foreshadows an ensuing night raid.

Suddenly, the Israeli Army occupies their house and forces the family to sleep on the floor in Area C: the living room, or the prison room. Area B – the kitchen and the bathroom – can be used with Israeli permission; and Area A, the upstairs, is off limits. “Don’t play with me any f-----‘ games,” the soldier says. Despite breaking windows, gunfire exchanges and utter chaos, the family wakes up in the morning and continues with their daily lives. Eventually, the soldiers break the spirit of the mother and some of the children, but the father is the family’s anchor. He maintains some normalcy by asking his children questions about their schoolwork.

In a heated conversation with his eldest daughter, Mariam, Mohammad insists the soldier’s coercive language makes them the cowards in their egregious occupation of Palestinians. He holds his ground on the nonuse of violence, although Jamal has secret plans for a hand grenade. Suspense builds every time Mariam sneaks upstairs and hides in a wooden closet so she can watch the soldiers act in regular pastimes, like watching sports and singing. At one point, the most high-strung soldier confesses he does not like the occupation’s system. Constanzo shows the soldiers as people, which adds to the balance of content presentation.

The riveting music builds the scenes by enhancing the emotions, especially in the dream sequences. Samia, Mariam, Jamal and Yousef make personal decisions that contend with Mohammad’s beliefs. However, Mohammad, who has faith in Allah, is not always aware of his family’s actions. As head of the family he will see them through this situation, even with a gun to his head.

Will principle keep the family together? Do the soldiers catch Mariam? Did Nada survive a night of crossfire outside the locked door? Did the soldiers see little Karim on the forbidden upstairs? Did Jamal’s grenade detonate in the greenhouse? Does Mohammad survive?

The suspense is almost unbearable.

Then again, life under military occupation is a tormenting reality of horrendous surprises.


Directed by: Saverio Constanzo
Produced by: Marion Gianani
Co-Produced by: Offside; Insitituto Luce; Cydonia, in association with RAI Cinema
Starring: Mohammad Bakri and Lion Miller
Music: Alter Ego; Emergency Music Italy
Country of production: Italy
Year: 2004
Language: Arabic, Hebrew and English, with English subtitles
Minutes: 92


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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