Tunisian director Moufida Tlatli's seven-year-later follow-up to her debut feature, THE SILENCES OF THE PALACE which surprised audiences and critics alike at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival is an equally powerful critique of women's place within the strict traditions of a patriarchal society. Aicha (Rabiaa Ben Abdallah) is the middle-aged mother...read more
Tunisian director Moufida Tlatli's seven-year-later follow-up to her debut feature, THE SILENCES OF THE PALACE which surprised audiences and critics alike at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival is an equally powerful critique of women's place within the strict traditions of a patriarchal society. Aicha (Rabiaa Ben Abdallah) is the middle-aged mother of two grown daughters, Meriem (Ghalia Ben Ali) and Emna (Hend Sabri), and a young, increasingly unmanageable autistic son, Aziz (Adel Hergal). Refusing to put Aziz in a sanitarium, Aicha defies the wishes of her estranged husband, Said (Ezzedine Gennoun), by moving back to the idyllic southern Tunisian island of Djerba with all three children in tow. The return to the island sparks memories and lengthy flashbacks of Aicha's unhappy life there. The newly married Aiacha and her sisters-in-law were, according to custom, kept virtual prisoners in the house of their husbands' mother (Mouna Noureddine) while the men returned to Tunis and their businesses. Once a year, Said and his brothers would return for a month-long visit with their waiting wives and, hopefully, children, during what is traditionally known as "the season of men." But unlike the other wives, Aicha isn't content to sit and wait; she industriously weaves beautiful rugs and begs her husband to take her back to Tunis where they can sell her carpets in his shop. "I'm the man. I'm in charge, not you," he reminds Aicha before leaving her alone once again under the stern eye of his draconian mother. The undisputed head of the household, she is charged with passing the law of the father onto her daughters-in-law and won't tolerate Aicha's dissent. Tlatli's aim is to expose the myriad effects of women's subjugation and she winds up matter-of-factly ascribing Aziz's autism to Aicha's unhappiness. Tlatli need not have gone so far: The powerfully realized dynamic between Aicha and her mother-in-law alone speaks volumes about oppression's power to distort not only psyches, but family ties as well. Despite its flaws, this is a bold, beautifully styled film from a director whose own career move from film editor the conventional place for women within the Tunisian film industry to the director's chair marks a personal shrugging off of patriarchal expectations.
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