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A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


Silences of the Palace [Samt al Qusoor]

From: The Silences of the Palace

© 1996, Capitol Entertainment

Director Moufida Tlatli

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This award-winning film, written and directed by Moufida Tlatli tells the story of a struggling singer, Alia (Ghalia Lacroix), who, after ten years, has returned to the palace where she grew up. The daughter of a servant, Alia (Hend Sabri as the young Alia) was never acknowledged by her bourgeois father, though he often showed a great deal of affection for her. In this scene Alia is exploring the room where she lived with her mother, when she discovers the lute that her mother had given her. Her mind then returns to the past where she remembers sitting with her friend Sarra while she practiced the lute. A legitimate child of the wealthy family, Sarra has been taking lessons to learn to play and Alia, her friend, has followed along. But Sarra’s mother has forbidden her to let Alia touch the lute. In this scene Sarra lends the instrument to Alia nonetheless, and Alia defies Sarra’s older brother in her refusal to give it back. She goes off, alone, to her room to play where she is watched by her father through a window. The Silences of the Palace is directed with loving attention to the details of women's lives and the political realities which they survive with courage, comradeship, and the resources of their bodies. For Moufida Tlatli, living in silence is a women's most terrifying condition. She says, "The aspect that hits me the most powerfully is the silence imposed on women in the Arab-Muslim world. They grow up living in doubts as to their own existence and their own past." The film is remarkable in its cinematography (Youssef ben Youssef) and sound editing. Music (by Anouar Brahem) and silence are juxtaposed in a manner that becomes as important to the narrative as the plot itself; and long flowing shots set the mood, even in scenes where the is no dialogue. As noted above, the film is clearly a comment on the status of women and the injustices of the class structure in Tunisia under the protectorate, but it is also a comment on the hopes and dreams for an independent Tunisia and the reality that emerged, as well as a powerful testament to the power of art to give voice to those whom social structures would prefer to silence.

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