Silence of the Palace is a traditional Arabian film reflecting the complicated life of women in the postcolonial Tunis. The title expresses the true essence and symbolical status of women during the 1950s in the Northern part of Africa. The movie reflects silent casual life of girls hiding a deep and thrilling scream of souls. This film is a rather strong female voice in the heartless world of men. It is the story of a girl who inherited a complicated fate of her mother, a servant in a rich palace. It is the place of her childhood, with which she associates her painful memories and grief about her mother. The picture consists of several flashbacks revealing desperate moments of life. A famous director from Tunis Moufida Tatli gives an insight into the most acute issues of the postcolonial Muslim country, reinforcing the problems of women’s identity and oppression on the background of national development.
I selected this film because it is the most thrilling and touching Middle East drama I have ever seen. It is not an appropriate picture for the Western cinematography because of its character and manner of depiction. Even watching the movie is a complicated process, which demands attentiveness and involves a deep analysis and evaluation. Unlike western dramas, Silence of the Palace does not give the audience a chance to relax while watching the movie. It is an involved and sophisticated work of mind which includes evaluation of sequences of actions and ideas. The picture is so gripping that it is impossible to omit some details; every moment reflects a sufficient part of information which is essential for conveying the main idea. I selected this film because of the attractive title promising something exotic, unfamiliar for the western audience, tempting by its Arabic style with ellements of fairytale. However, it is more an allegoric story with a depressive plot that reveals true and distressing life of women in Tunis (Zayzafoon). Additionally, this picture received numerous rewards and much positive feedback after the premiere. Despite the message in the title, it is a scream rather than silence. Moreover, my decision was also connected with the ideas of feminism presented in a quite unusual manner, namely from the perspective of a woman who beard painful memory of oppression by men. However, the characters do not explain all the ordeals and suffering; they are revealed with the help of fragments without substantial number of dialogues.
The movie is about the life of a young woman returning to the palace where her mother worked as a servant. Alia is a talented singer, but her life is full of pain and disappointment caused by men’s uncontrolled power. She realizes that her sufferings are inherited from her mother and being a toy in the hands of men. Alia is pregnant and has to make a decision either to leave a baby or to make an abortion again. Returning to the palace of her childhood plays an essential role in her choice. Showing respect to the prince and the master of the house, she comes to the place of her moral tortures to visit the funerals. Short but detailed flashbacks remind her about the sufferings locked deep in her heart. Alia has a distressing realization of her mother Khedija’s sexual exploitation by rich and powerful men against her will (Zayzafoon). During that time the girl experiences her personal sexual development in the frames of gender and class inconsistency. The only question she needs to know is her father’s name, though by the end of the movie, his personality makes no sense and importance. She realizes that her mother was both a father and a mother to her despite feeling pain and despair after finding herself in a deadlock.
The film has quite an essential meaning for the national Arabic cinematography. It reveals the essence of the women’s life through the main key word, silence. Anyway, it speaks a strong and firm voice of a tender woman in the world ruled by men. Moufida Tatli, the film director, achieved great fame in her native country and abroad after the picture release. It is an allegory of Tunisian nationalism and feminism presented in the form of a metaphor of silence of the oppressed women. Certainly, silence is the key idea, and it does not concern only lack of dialogues since even scream is silent. Tatli states that she is against dialogues; cinematography is about silence because this kind of art should be reflected through the images. She initiated a certain tendency in traditional Tunis films. Arabic movies did not use to be associated with politic issues and concerned rather some social aspects. However, Moufida Tatli developed a new specific wave in the national cinematography and presented it in her movie Silence of the Palace. This significant tradition appears in the entire North African cinematography as well. The films are rather allegorical and metaphoric with lack of dialogues and explanations, making the audience evaluate the context and essence within some personal understanding. In addition, many issues of the movie are left untold and require reflection after watching the picture.
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Nevertheless, all the presented characteristics confirm the dramatic character of the movie. The picture includes features of many types of the drama genre in spite of its simple story narration. It is a deep psychological drama, which reveals internal suffering and struggle with fears concerning national, gender, and class relations. The story of Alia is the development and evolution of a woman soul from childhood to maturity, facing complicated traumas after witnessing her mother’s sexual slavery in the place. Thus, it is associated with the genre of “fallen woman” drama. Without a doubt, all women in the picture can be called fallen against their personal will but in result of social pressure and traditions. This aspect of the film presents the social problem drama, dealing with postcolonial relations, suffering of a ruined personality on the background of national development and class relations. The film touches the problem of a woman in the national scale. The main hero reveals the true essence of life and importance of women. She tries to find out the truth about her father, but it makes no sense in the end of the picture. The movie provides a deep and strong message that father is not a name; it is pain, sufferings and joy (Sedra). Thus, it is a strong message of the drama. Alia decides to save her baby and wants to have a girl, confirming obvious feminist elements of the film. The issues of women’s problems and identity in the Arab world cause deep emotions and weeping and affirm the genre of a melodramatic life story of the picture. However, it is necessary to admit that this film illustrates some exceptional Arabian traditions for the western audience. It is presented in the form of an ethic family saga, conceding sexual oppression, distress and incest problems. Therefore, it is a unique picture that presents Arabian culture with the help of multiple genres.
The film reflects significant aspects of the Middle East culture and relations. It is a reflection of the national development in the frame of French pressure, which brings about not only political and economic changes but also moral and cultural issues. The Arab world looses its identity under the influence of colonialism. Tatli tries to reflect these issues with the help of symbolism. A young pregnant woman Alia escapes form servant service, but she cannot escape her slave memory and associations with sexual exploitation of her mother. Khadija symbolizes colonial Tunis suffering under the pressure of France. Although the new generation has released from it, the true nature of Tunis independence is still the same. Alia is a fallen woman having several aborts and she is still not free. Alia symbolizes the new generation, and her unborn child is a symbol of the future, which is associated with some kind of hope for better life. In general, the movie presents the most disgraceful page in the history and culture of the Arabian world – the status of women. The house of Sid’Ali resemblances the ancient harem, where women were kept only for some sexual needs. Although the events take place during the 1950s, old patriarchal traditions are still acceptable and normal for Tunis. The film is not only a complicated drama but also a presentation of the Eastern culture and style of life. In addition, the picture reveals complicated political and social issues.
Naturally, political conflicts serve only as the background for presenting some acute social relations and problems. The position of class in the post-colonial world has a destructive influence on the person. Thus, the word silence has also some association with class identity and positions in the society. It is a strong segregation of servants of rich people living in the palace. The scene with the photography illustrates this idea most vividly. When the family of Bay prepares for the photo, Alia stands near her friend Sarah, a niece of Sid’Ali. However, she was asked to leave the place and go to the servants. It is a bright example of strict separation of classes in Tunis during the 1950s. In addition, sexual abuse of servants is another essential social issue of the movie. Alia notices how brutally her mother is assaulted by rich men against her will. Khadija hates her body and feels disgust; however, she cannot oppose since it is her duty to serve in all aspects of her status. It is symbolically reflected in the picture between upstairs and downstairs (Sedra). Thus, silence is a global condition concerning not only women but also social and political issues.
The picture illustrates gender problems along with some aspects of sexuality. Alia’s sexual and physical development coincides with her mother rough and brutal sexual assault. Undoubtedly, it is the primary psychological trauma of the girl who observes scenes of violence and debauchery of her mother against her will. The issues of sexuality as well as gender are presented from the aspect of Arabian culture. In the scene when Khadija dances a belly dance, Alia feels despair and humiliation. The theme of gender and sexuality in the Arabian world can be identified as a unique single unit. It is the world of men’s power, where a woman is seen as a means to satisfy sexual desires and reproduce. Silence for women in the Muslim country is a key rule as well. The necessity to speak for a girl is unreasonable because men do not take into consideration their moral needs but only sexuality and physical characteristics. Therefore, such traumatic mode of life and conditions of sexual development of a young girl leads to an unhealthy moral state of Alia. The film presents the personality of Alia as an embodiment of the entire country suffering form transgenerational transmission of sexual trauma leading to escape and independence. The end of the movie is debatable since the main hero decides to leave her unborn child alive but her future is unknown.
In case Alia was not born a girl of Khadija, her life is unknown as well as the life of future generations and gender issues. This is the main message of the movie concerning gender aspects. The film makes some feminism penetration into the culture, political and social life of Tunis. Alia makes the first step on the way of changes in her life and decides to object the decision of her boyfriend and save the life for her baby. The ending of the film is open and debatable because it is not known whether a little and unborn Khadija would not repeat her mother’s and grandmother’s experience and would be able to resist. The film presents a strong message and claim toward the Tunis gender policies, which breaks thousands of lives under the pressure of sexual assault and oppression. The third essential message of the movie is the issue of a man as a father. Although, the context of the picture reveals that Sid’Ali is Alia’s father, a widow of the Bay does not open the secret to Alia. The essence of this idea is sufficient for the gender issues of the film. The name of the man means nothing if he does not participate in the life of the child. A father is not a name; it is a part of life of a child. The strong message about fathers concerns future generations, convincing them to revise social relations and influence of men on the life of girls. Such a sufficient gap in gender relations and perception of a woman as a means of sexual satisfaction is the result of wrong family relations and lack of father’s assistance. The behavior of men would not be as brutal if their could project it on their daughter and imagine that someone else can assault their daughter as they do it with other women.
I am impressed by the film and like it very much because it touches many essential aspects of life explained in the frame of different genres. I enjoyed the character of the picture; it is silent in direct and symbolical aspects. The presentation of the main ideas is unusual. It is a skilful organization of scenes where every detail plays an essential role without additional dialogues. It is possible to watch the movie without the sound at all, and it will be understandable and even interesting. The last episode and Alia’s monologue seem to be the most essential words of the picture. I like the movie since it is not traditional for the western audience and helps to understand the nature of social issues, gender and class relations and the problem of sexuality in Tunis as one of many Arabian countries.
Thus, the movie Silent in the Place is a deep psychological melodrama which reveals a complicated mode of life of women in the country in the frame of social relations and post-colonial development. The film touches many problems of gender identity, class role, and the problem of sexuality. Moufida Tatli initiates some cultural tendency in the Arabic cinematography, presenting a drama with a complicate context with rich image illustration and lack of dialogues. The film has two most essential messages – the life of future generations and father’s issues. It is one of the most interesting films that I have ever seen because of its symbolism, strong messages, and context, revealing a shocking mode of life of oppressed women in the Arabian world of men. Silence in the Palace is a condition and status for all women in Tunis as well as the entire nation in the frame of colonialism.