Set in 1950s Tunisia, a 25-year-old woman, Alia, returns to her place of birth-a prince's palace in which her mother, Khedija, worked as a house servant and mistress of prince Sid' Ali. She had fled the palace ten years earlier, at which time she spent burying tortured memories of her childhood. In her visit to pay respects for the death of the prince, she 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 sexuality and sexual exploitation in a space ordered by gender and class difference, and is re-awakened to her persistent questioning about her father's identity. As she negotiates her past, she also deals with her current relationship to her lover, Lotfi, who has asked her to have another abortion. Her development throughout the film contrasts her awakening to a past of sexual and social servitude which many of the female servants ...
The best film ever made in the Arab World really isn't a superlative that would be difficult to attain, but this film is really a masterwork.
Aliya a singer with an superb voice but little success is invited to the palace where she spent her childhood as the daughter of a servant. She never really got to know who her father was, that she has been invited back to the palace after the head of the household, member of the Turkish ruling family of pre-independence Tunisia has died is no accident.
Back in the palace all her childhood memories come back to Alia. She remembers her mother being the concubine of the deceased. His wife was barren, and she becomes sure that she is his daughter.
She also remembers how her love for music helped her to gain prestige in the palace. But the songs she sang were not just entertainment. The melodies of Umm Kulthum were broadcasted by Radio Cairo to spread the message of Arab awakening and the longing for independence. Albeit its political aspects also the ruling family, a puppet on the strings of the French, enjoys the music. But for the masses the songs also become a symbol for the longing for freedom. falls in love with one student who is an independence activist. He is hiding in the palace where his aunt is another servant. He promises her a brilliant future but already at the beginning of the film we are told that the promise was not to be kept.
The film is a ingenious ridiculization of political rhetoric and seldom ever has Oriental music bee integrated in a film so brilliantly (except perhaps Ray's Jalsaghar). You will enjoy it even if Arab music doesn't mean anything to you.
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