Original Title: Samt el qusur
Country: Tunisia, France
Director: Moufida Tlatli
Language: Arabic, French
19.02.2020: This review was first published on 13.06.2018 and is being updated for a more complete review, together with the publishing of the YouTube Version.
Hello! Welcome to Ulven Reviews!
The Silences of the Palace, A.K.A. Samt el qusur, is a Tunisian film by Moufida Tlatli, in which a singer returns to the palace where she grew up, reviving painful memories.
World Cup Historic
The Tunisia National Team began unofficially in 1928, but officially, only after the Independence from France in 1956. Their first match was against Algeria, a country at war for independence with… France.
Tunisia played in five FIFA World Cups, the last one, in 2018, after eight years of absence. In every participation, they were out after the group stage, with the best result being a 9th place in 1978.
In Russia, Tunisia had a very troublesome group for them, but they exited the competition with dignity. They managed to get a win and scored a total of five goals.
In 1881, France invaded Tunisia and made it a protectorate. Skipping to around 1950, France accepted to give more powers to Tunisian officials, making it a co-sovereignty between the two countries, what didn’t please the nationalists.
The following year, the new French Prime Minister decided to be harsher in his decisions, and things escalated into violence. The nationalists, led by Habib Bourguiba, started a general strike in 1952, later evolving into Guerrilla resistance from the nationalist, and assassination from terrorists backed by France.
By the way, assassination is a common practice by the French colonialists, even after the countries are no longer their colonies. A sad example of this, Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso.
When another new Prime Minister assumed office, he decided to deal with the situation smoothly, considering that France had many other wars and independence movements in their hands. So finally, in 1956, Tunisia obtained independence, and Habib Bourguiba became the first Tunisian president.
Samt el qusur
After receiving the news that the prince Sid’Ali (played by Kamel Fazaa) had died, Alia (played by Ghalia Lacroix and Hend Sabry) returns to the palace where she grew up, bringing up painful memories of her adolescence.
Alia’s mother, Khedija (played by Amel Hedhili), and Sid’Ali’s wife, gave birth on the same night. So Alia and Sarra (played by Khedija Ben Othman), the daughter of the Prince, grew up together as best friends.
The prince Sid’Ali himself liked the “low-born girl” very much, and sometimes treated her like she was part of the family, taking pictures with the girls, visiting when she got sick, asking for her to sing for his guests.
Focused on Alia’s adolescence, we watch as she learns to play the lute, charm people with her singing. Also, the secrets her mother kept from her and the suffering she endured at the Palace.
The Silences of the Palace has a great story, involving the central characters I already mentioned and also many other women servants in the palace, all of them with their own struggles, but also similarities.
Alia compares her life in the present with the lives of these disadvantaged women in her memories, especially her mother. With this comparison, we can see that oppression is not only imposed on the impoverished servants, but also in an artist.
This juxtaposition, to me, showed the main focus of the movie is more about gender than class relations. However, if things are hard for women in general, it’s even worse for a poor one, that’s why the class perspective is also crucial.
The acting from the supporting cast is solid, and Hend Sabry is very enjoyable as the young Alia. But my favorite was Amel Hedhili as Khedija. She’s fascinating, conveying everything the character is feeling.
The acting is enhanced by Moufida Tlatli’s direction. She does an exceptional job making the actors’ interpretation effective. One of my favorite things is how she focuses on the maids’ faces while one of them suffers, showing how they share and understand the pain of one another.
It’s a slow-paced film, with many brutal moments, but in no way, it became a melodramatic cliché. It’s definitely an emotional movie, but it doesn’t go as far as the tragedy that is Leviathan, for example.
There are also moments of fun and happiness in the lives of these people. Moments with all the workers together in their common-space, with a lot of singing, playing, and eating.
The movie is set in the 50s, during the general strike that preceded independence, but these conflicts don’t have a direct impact on the plot. I don’t know if the costumes were accurate with the period, but at least regarding the different classes, the wardrobe made sense.
I really liked the locations as well. The palace has an appealing look, contrasting between the area of the Prince, and the space of the servants. The vast place where the servants stay is the one I preferred.
The cinematography is a little disappointing, nothing special at all. The colors are dull, even when it has many colors, the framing is basic, and the camera movement offers some dynamism but is also simplistic.
The Silences of the Palace is a very musical movie, from the very start, with an adult singer Alia, to all the lute-playing from adolescent Alia. The music from the film is what ignorant ears like mine would classify as typical middle-eastern music. I believe it’s a genre called Ma’luf, but I just looked it up, so I’m not sure.
There is one thing that could make the music better, and even the visual better. The movie is from 1994 but has the quality of a late 70s or early 80s film. But that’s a minor flaw in the overall result.
The Silences of the Palace is a marvelous movie with a strong story and acting, I loved it, and I’m glad I chose it to be the Tunisian entry on this series. So I’m giving The Silences of the Palace 9 moons.