A particularly lovely image of Hend Ayoub in the Italian drama "Private."

A particularly lovely image of Hend Ayoub in the Italian drama "Private."

(Typecast) Mohammed Bakri, Lior Miller, Hend Ayoub, Tomer Russo, Areen Omari, Marco Alsay, Sarah Hamzeh. Directed by Saverio Costanzo.

In an occupied territory, life is very different than what it is in a land that is free. In an occupied territory, what you thought was yours can be taken away in a moment.

Mohammed (Bakri) is a Palestinian academic living in the occupied West Bank. He and his wife Samiah (Omari) have been arguing. They have received word that their home is scheduled to be commandeered by the Israeli army. Mohammed wants to stay – it is an issue of principle. “I don’t wish to be a refugee,” he explains. “A refugee is a non-person.” Samiah is concerned their five children will be placed in harm’s way. One night, they are awakened by troops led by the ramrod-straight Lt. Ofer (Miller) and are ordered to leave immediately. When they refuse, Miller reluctantly allows them to stay on the bottom floor only but will not allow them upstairs, where the Israelis will be billeted.

What follows is a tense standoff. Mohammed and Samiah try to go about their lives as best they can, while their eldest daughter Miriam (Ayoub) seethes and their eldest son Jamal (Alsay) commits little rebellions. At night, they are contained in what they call the “prison room,” not allowed to leave even to use the restroom. One night, when there is gunfire, their youngest Sarah (Hamzeh) is caught outside their locked doors. Mohammed desperately tries to comfort the terrified girl through the doorway.

While some of the Israeli soldiers, particularly Eial (Russo) are sympathetic, Ofer is paranoid and brutal – even his own men are scared of what he’ll do. While Mohammed counsels passive resistance, his children grow more and more frustrated and willing to resort to acts of violence to get the unwanted soldiers out of their home. In point of fact, they have no home. They have no privacy.

Surprisingly, this is an Italian film from a filmmaker better known for documentaries and this is shot in documentary style. Hand-held cameras help heighten the tension and occasionally Costanzo shoots in night vision-like black and white to ratchet up the tension and sense of reality.

His cast, mostly Palestinian and Israeli, are superb, particularly Bakri as the patriarch whose resolve is crumbling. He’s an intelligent man caught in a situation where reason disappears. Ayoub is also compelling as the hot-headed daughter. She spies on the soldiers in her bedroom, leading to some of the film’s most tense moments when she is on the verge of being discovered.

The problem I have with the movie is the ending. First, it’s rather abrupt which is fine, and it leaves the story unresolved, which I can also accept, but it launches into an English-language ballad which derails everything. Those last few moments are inappropriate given the tenor of the film.

This is one of the better films to come out of Italy in quite a while. Originally conceived as a direct-to-video program, its success on the European festival circuit prompted a limited release here in the States. It’s a bit difficult to find, but worth checking out (I know Netflix carries it).

WHY RENT THIS: A tense and satisfying portrayal of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and what it means to those living there. Wonderful performances, particularly from Bakri and Ayoub, are worth noting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending is abrupt and a bit weak.

FAMILY VALUES: The subject is adult and there are moments when children are placed in extreme jeopardy.



TOMORROW: Love Happens