Silences of the Palace, The (1994): Moufida Tlatli’s Coming of Age Tale, with Feminist Angle

Moufida Tlatli directed and co-wrote The Silences of the Palaces, a Tunisian coming of age tale, exploring issues of gender, class and sexuality in the Arab world through the lives of two generations of women at a prince’s palace.

Seen through the eyes of an attractive young wedding singer, it exposes the sexual and social servitude of women in elaborate palace during the French Protectorate in Tunisia.

Tlatli wrote the film in response to her own mother’s sudden illness, and her realization of how little she knew about her life.

Set in 1950s Tunisia, the film centers on Alia, a woman of 25, who returns to her place of birth—a prince’s palace in which her mother, Khedija, worked as a house servant and mistress.

Alia had fled the palace ten years earlier, trying to bury tortured memories of her childhood.

Visiting to pay respects for the prince’s death, Alia wanders through the largely abandoned palace where she is confronted by these memories represented as detailed flashbacks of her childhood.

She begins to piece together a narrative about her mother’s sexual exploitation in a space ordered by gender and class difference, while re-awakening to her questioning about her father’s identity.

As Alia negotiates her past, she also deals with her relationship with her lover Lotfi, who has asked her to hav yet another abortion.

Her development throughout the film contrasts her awakening to a past of sexual and social servitude, which many of the female servants experienced, against her own contested independence fraught with pain, conflict and uncertainty.

Tlati adopts a flowing, sensual style that fits the film’s thematic narrative.