Saverio Costanzo's thriller Private begins with a group of Israeli soldiers storming into the house of Palestinian professor Mohammed Bakri and his family, and demanding that they vacate the premises so the army can establish a sniper position. Instead, Bakri offers commander Lior Miller a deal: the army can bunk down on the top floor of the two-story residence, while the family stays on the first floor (sleeping in a single room) and provides the soldiers with cover for their covert operation. That premise sounds ready-made for allegory, but writer-director Saverio Costanzo gives it the feeling of truth by shooting with hand-held digital cameras and keeping the framing tight on the characters. Private is tense and immediate, rooted in the ongoing conflict over who owns what in the Middle East, but it's just as concerned with more universal questions about how a man should protect what's his.
Mostly, Private deals with the practical effects of home invasion. What if the family has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? If the soldiers tear down their greenhouse to improve their sightline, can the family rebuild it? When the soldiers leave without notice, can the family reclaim the rest of their house, or should they assume that the army is coming back? The two people most affected by the occupation are Bakri's oldest daughter and son, the former of whom sneaks upstairs to peek at the soldiers through the cracked door of a wardrobe, and the latter of whom begins imagining what it would be like to be a terrorist. While one begins to see the occupiers as just another group of goofy guys who watch soccer and bicker over clean-up duty, the other begins plotting to catch them in an explosive booby trap.
For all its documentary-style urgency, Private often feels forced. Bakri's wife chastises him with too-blunt lines like, "With all due respect to your books, my children's lives are more important," and the even-handed treatment of victims and perpetrators removes a crucial element of rage. (It's also an open question whether it's fairor even aesthetically valuableto set a morality play in a land where daily existence alone has ethical implications.) In a lot of ways, Costanzo's mise-en-scene tells a more compelling story than the movie's dialogue and action. From the ominous low-angle exteriors of Bakri's house to the obscured views from inside the wardrobe to the nerve-jangling final shot, Private is suffused with imminent violence, overwhelming any efforts to make a lasting peace.