The Silences of the Palace

The lingering legacy of the harem is brought to light, stripped of its mystery, in this first feature by Tunisian writer/director/editor Moufida Tlatli. News of the death of Prince Sid'Ali brings Alia, a small-time professional singer, back to the palace where she was born into servitude. Deserted courtyards offer up memories of a girlhood spent trying to decipher the shifting roles of her beautiful mother-now slave, now lover-and wondering where her mother's tragic fate would intersect with her own. Tlatli films with the intimacy of a novel: from the downstairs quarters where servants dish up rebellious innuendo and feminine intimacy, to the masters' confines where lugubrious luxury seems to announce its own demise, she skillfully makes interior space the whole world. Outside, the battle of Tunisian nationalists against the French-for independence, for roots, for a future-clearly has parallels, but after the political war is won, women go on to fight alone.

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