The Silences of the Palace (1994) - full transcript

As Alia, the daughter of a beautiful servant Khedija, grows up in the Kings Palace at the end of the French colonial rule in Tunisia, she realizes the sexual favours required of her mother and other servants.

You're late.

I almost fell asleep.

Did they bother you?

The usual harassment.

Don't worry.

They know you live with me.

Did you take your medicine?

Turn the light off, please.

Does it still hurt?

I'm scared.

Of what?

Of the neighbours'


They always stare at me.

Every look an accusation,

as if they could read my face.

It's in your head.

They know nothing about you.

It's a difficult moment.

Tomorrow you won't feel this burden.

Then it starts again.

Every abortion is painful.

It's a part of me that abandons me.

I want to keep it.

You're crazy!

I thought the debate was over.

A child needs a name,

a family, a marriage.

I'm not asking you to marry me.

A failed singer.

Stop it, Alia.

You're torturing yourself and me.

You know I love you.

You mean so much to me.

You always have to win.

Tomorrow I'll have my abortion.

My head is going to explode.

I forgot to tell you.

Houssine came by.

Sid'Ali is dead.

That's shocking news indeed.

I forget my headache...

the child in my belly...

these dismal marriages.

My old pains resurface,

and the past I thought I'd buried

with my mother.

And I find myself in the palace

I escaped 10 years ago,

since that horrifying night.

Your silence terrified me.

Sid'Ali is dead.

He too left with my history.

Now I am afraid.

How could I face them?

My condolences.

Is Khalti Hadda still here?

In her room.

I'll go there.

Stay a while. I've missed you.

I must go see her.
Come along if you can.

Khalti Hadda...

It's me. Alia.

I've missed you so!

I've missed you too.

We thought we'd never see you again.

Khalti Hadda, what did Sid'Ali die of?

The doctors couldn't do anything.

They gave up.

I looked after him like a baby.

With my failing eyes,

I couldn't go on.

So Mroubia took my place.

Did he talk about me?

The engagement made him go mad.

He didn't know what to do

to get news about you.

Houssine didn't want to tell him.

To calm him down,

we didn't mention your name anymore.

In his eyes,

you had renounced the family.

The family? What family?

Jneina couldn't have any children.

When you were born, he was overjoyed.

You and Sarra

were born the same night.

Ali, you're making me dizzy.

Excuse me.


Thank you.


Congratulations, Lella.

Khedija is busy working.

Go give her a hand.

Habiba, come with me.

Congratulations for your baby girl.

Thank you.

A girl. God bless her.

Who is the father?

Shut up!

Jneina couldn't stand me.

Poor thing. Her belly gave her away.

Stay a while.

The prophet is born.

May joy reign.

Let us begin with the name of Allah.

And the one of his prophet.
May God bless him.

The nightingale sang on the tree.

I fell asleep at its feet.

Love pangs took hold of me.

I jumped out of bed

to look for my glass.

I called the servants

to prepare the feast

Cherif, hang onto your beard!

I hang on to God.

Cherif seems very happy tonight.

As usual.

He can barely stand up.

He should take care of his child.

Cherif, leave her alone.

She's new.

She needs to be initiated.

It's an act of charity.

Like the sirocco, you help
the fruit ripen.

I take an eyeful... I touch.

Leave me alone, bastard! Animal!

He pinched me, I've got a bruise.

Hold back your husband, Habiba!

Keep him! Do me a favor!

Don't touch what's not yours.

What's going on?

Can't you let us sleep?

Poor thing.

He even envies our laughter.

Khalti Hadda, so your son is a bey?

And much more.

You'll wake me at six?

Even earlier, if you like.

I'm a living clock.

But only for the first floor!


And you, what made you

such a mess?

He heard the call to prayer.

Go rest your bones.

Spruce him up for me.


It's lively here. That's good.


bring us a drink upstairs.

I envy them.

They will party until dawn.

Alia, stay. Where are you going?

Alia, Sarra, keep away.

Don't go out.

If you do, I'll tell your mother.

Si El'Hedi is here.

Hello. Come in, sit down.

Did you learn your lesson?

The last time,

you played it too slowly.

We're going to try it faster.

Sarra, come quickly.

Everyone is waiting.

Move. You'll be in the picture.

Get ready.

Don't move.

Alia, come here.

Mroubia, you're still here.

Where else should I go?

The door is padlocked.

I'll bring you the keys.

Beya, I'm sorry.

And don't worry about me.

I've fallen awfully low.

I've debased myself for the girl

who was with us and left in a whirl,

turning her back on me.

What's wrong?

Where are you going?

Tell Hadda I want fava beans.

What do you find in them?

Who do you mean?

Don't be a hypocrite, please.

You're very attached to them.

You've fallen low.

Work time!

Carrot puree again?

Get moving.

Falfoula, pass me the basket.

Have some coffee, son.

- Thank you.
- God bless you.


I saw you in the garden this morning.

What class. Just like Jneina.

Why not?

What does she have that I don't?

On the contrary, you are more charming.

Up yours.

Stop blathering and go get Apple.

The master needs her.

What does he want with that midget?

Get her, take her back.

He's been shouting deliriously
for two days.

I was up all night.

Why this insomnia?

I wake up in the morning.

You haven't left yet?

I'll bring him back his Apple.

Khalti Hadda.

Sid'Ali wants fava-bean stew.

We don't envy their wealth,

they envy our poverty.

Where are you off to?

Help me cut the parsley.

Welcome, Beya.

Thank you.

Khedija, get a chair.

How are the girls?

Fine, thank you.

- Congratulations for your daughter.
- Thank you.

Best wishes to you too.

May God find you a worthy spouse.

May God hear you.

It happens to all young girls.

How else would you take part in ramadan?

But be careful and don't hide
anything from me.


Daddy says, do your homework.

Stop. My mother told me

girls should never run.

I can. They've already
found me a husband.


My cousin Mehdi.

Do you love him?

My father chose him.

Where are you going?

You've grown.

Be careful.

Don't let anyone come near you.

If a man touches you, run away.

If something happens to you,
you're lost,

and nobody will be able to save you.

Not even Sid'Ali?

Not even Sid'Ali.

Your place is with me, in the kitchen.

I hate pots and pans.

So now you love and you hate!

Don't talk to me that way!

I want to learn the lute.

With what lute?

I can't use Sarra's. Her mother said so.

Don't take Sarra as an example.

Who then?

Who is my father?

Quiet! Don't mention that again.

Can I go to the party tonight?

No! No party for you!

The calmer and firmer you remain,

the faster we will be done with those
Fellagha thugs.

It's notjust the Fellaghas.

Common subjects are thrown into prison,
others are killed for no reason.

You're putting the bey in an impossible

Trust us. We have to stick together.
It's the only way.

Our right to exist is threatened and you
speak of trust.

You should stick with us.

Like mother, like daughter.

Born to be bad! Get out of here.

Sarra, come here.

Tahar, your mother is calling you.

Faster, or else...

Houssine, give us a push.

Still on swings at your age?

C'mon, start swinging.


Didn't you want to swing?

- It's too much!
- Too much?


Harder! Up to the sky!

That far? Here you go.


Lend me your lute.

Just a little. Don't worry.

My mother mustn't see you.

Where are you going?

Give it back to me
or I'll tell my mother.

I said, give me that lute!

Go tell her!

Do you really think

my heart can still trust you?

That a word can make me

relive the past?

That a gaze can still make me believe

in passion and tenderness?

Those were the good old days...

Don't get on my nerves. I've been making

sweets for 14 years.

I'm exhausted. Are you done?

They're getting antsy.

We can't go any faster.

Are you going dancing again tonight?

Go to sleep.

I want to go.

Go to bed. Don't annoy me.

Let her go. She's just a kid.

A kid? Look at her. She's as tall as me.

- Eat your dinner.
- I'm not hungry.

No man wants a skinny wife.

A woman needs to have curves.

Don't worry. We all meet our destiny.


Is there anything left for my friends?

There's plenty.

Not ready yet? The party has started.

I forgot. Have them bring

something up to the alcove.

Yes, Sir.

Look at him.

He's getting worse.

Don't forget my tea tonight.

How shameful.

Khedija's tea is unique.

What's wrong?

You're not in bed yet?

Go to bed!

You're not asleep yet?

What are you doing?


Very well.

Aren't you ashamed?

Do the princes have exclusive rights?

Get out!

And we who are of the same stuff,

don't have any rights?

You think you're funny?

Let me by.


Do you prefer your cards or me?

And my earrings?

I haven't forgotten.

It's not the right time.

Alia is a gem.

She'll be a beauty.

Let's not talk about her.


On the contrary,

you know I like her a lot.

Habiba, in good form so early?

Memia wants this for this morning.

Thief! Out of my room!

Your room?

Yes, my room.

Maybe I shouldn't?

You've been upstairs twice

and you want to give orders!

Call the police!

Those in the palace aren't
enough for you?

You're from the gutter.

I don't know where I'm from,

I stole deliberately.

And I'd steal the light

from your eyes and theirs.

Enough! You give us a headache!

I do everything to avoid any scandals.

What a mess!

Go to your room.

Still fighting!

Take her. I want my independence.

Quiet. That word leads to the gallows.

The street is on fire.

The French have surrounded the city.

They've shot at demonstrators

It won't stop.

Too much blood.

What does the Bey say?

The French are furious with him.

Attack the French!

They'll destroy everything.

Including us.

I burnt it.

Bouquet of roses,

where shall I put you?

I'll put you on my eyes,

bouquet of roses.

Why strain your eyes?

Your dowry won't find a customer.

Yourjealousy will kill you.

I'll leave and you'll be sorry.

You'd leave us alone?

I don't' belong to you.

We'll marry them the same day.

Sarra and her.

Stop it.

Let her dream, at least.

Bouquet ofjasmine, let me inhale you.

I'll inhale it. For your fianc??

For my fianc? I have something else.

Khedija, calm them down.

We're having fun.

Fella, some tea, please.

Did you see Alia?

She worries me.

She tortures me with her questions.

She is sensitive. Be gentle with her.

Let's prepare dinner.

Chema, do you need an invitation?

What a beauty!

She was sleeping in the sun.

I was worried about her.

She's as beautiful as you.
Are you scared?

Open Khedija's door.

It seems to be locked.

That's not like her. Call her.

Come open your door.

It's locked.


I didn't lock it.

I don't understand.

Alia. Open up.

Wait. I have the key.

What's wrong?

Are you in pain?

Talk to me.

A little orange blossom.

And call Cherifa.

What's taking her so long?

Let's leave her with Cherifa.

I've been waiting so long,
I'm getting old.

I have roots all the same.

My cousin came from far away,

and they slammed the door in his face.

He called until the crack of dawn

and no one answered.

He'll come back.

The next time, they'll let him in.

I'll feed her.

May God watch over my little girl.

She'll grow up, and I'll teach her.

My little one

May God protect my little girl.

National strike.

I had a hard time

finding Alia's medicine.

French soldiers

have shot at nationalist strikers.

Several were killed or wounded

in the clashes.

A large protest march is moving

toward the Bey's palace in Tunis.

The Bey can do nothing.

The struggle must continue.

If the Bey leaves,
the country will be lost.

We have nothing to lose.

Those braving their rifles know that.

Green Tunisia is shrouded in clouds.

In heaven flags are waving,

making the sky tremble

and extinguishing the stars.

Tahar, who taught you that?

We often hear it in the kitchen.

Tell them I don't want to hear that song

around here anymore.

Father, what's wrong?

Nothing. I'm a bit worried.


The situation is serious.

The Bey is concerned.

He has reason to be...

Everyone criticizes him.

The French

because he receives the nationalists,

and the nationalists,

because he gives in to the French.

The Bey is a puppet.

There aren't any strong men

left in the palace.

They're on the other side.

But they have no class.

Class cannot be captured.

It takes generations

to acquire it.

The country is fed up.

We may suffer the same fate

as Farouk in Egypt.

Are these ideas from the gang

you spend your nights with?

It's better than brooding.

Go on, I'll join you later.

Lotfi, Sarra's and Selim's teacher.

He'll be spending a few days here.

Why with us?

The palace has plenty of rooms.

Si Bechir doesn't want him there.

And I should put him up? Are you crazy?

He's like a brother to me.

I'm your mother.
You don't have a brother!

Excuse me, my son.

This isn't my home.

It's beyond me...

If they ever find out,
it will be terrible.

He'll stay only two days.

Only two days!

I don't want any trouble.

I shouldn't. She's afraid.

These events scare her.

I'll explain it to her.

Stay here. You'll be safer

while the police are after you.

They won't look for you in the palace.

Alia... gently:

Don't worry.

It's Saturday night.

There's a party going on.

There are lots of girls here tonight.

Where is Khalti Hadda?

In the bathroom.

Do you like it?

Very much.

It was your mother's idea.


You didn't see anything.

Where does it come from?

Mama and Khalti Hadda.

Where is Khalti Hadda?

She just went out.

You know my name?

It's beautiful.

Can you play?

A little.

I'm learning.

And you, what do you do?

I'm a teacher.

I teach Sarra and Selim.

Come with them if you like.

My mother would say no.

Your voice is beautiful.

Too bad it's locked up inside.

You're locked up too.

Why don't you live with your family?

They live in Le Kef.

Where is Le Kef?

It's a city far away.

You've gone too far!

She annoys me.

We can't remain slaves all our lives.

Show a little respect.

Does she think we're blind?

Camels never see their humps.

It's too complicated for you.

I'm sick of this. I'm suffocating.

Who is the boy in your room?

My daughter never leaves him.

Maybe she's interested?

He keeps asking me questions about her.

Who can predict destiny?

Why is he in your home?

He's Houssine's friend.

He sleeps in your home?

I must be magnetic.

I'm in no mood to laugh.

Another party tonight.

How boring...

Why? Rejoice! Alia is better.

Khedija, Sid'Ali is calling you.

The soup is too salty

for Sidi.

I'll make him some without salt.

Don'tjust stand there.

Go set the table upstairs.

What an idiot.

What does he find in her?

What's wrong? You're pale.

Sid'Ali wants Alia to go up and sing


You have no choice.

You mustn't contradict him.

Let me write it myself.

You see, it's easy.

Can you write your last name?

Are you scared?

You're the one who scares me.

Stop being scared.

You're indecided, like the country.

One word thrills you,
the next scares you.

Things will change.

A new future awaits us.

You will be a great singer.

Your voice will enchant everyone.

Alia, your mother wants you.

Mama, what is it?



You called me.

Get ready.

Sid'Ali wants you to go sing.



I have no dress.

I'll give you one.

What is it?

To your health.

Your daughter has a wonderful


I want Alia to bring me my tea.

What's wrong?

She's just a girl.

Don't worry.

What's wrong? What is going on?

You should be happy.

Alia's voice is a treasure.

She has a soul.

I no longer do.

Are you crazy?

Don't talk that way.

You will never leave

this room again.

You mustn't go upstairs anymore.

Is that clear?

Havoc is being wrought

all over Tunisia.

The French government has refused

to receive the nationalist delegation.

There have been demonstrations

in several cities,

demanding independence.

A nation wide strike has been declared.

Change the station.

Alia, turn off the radio.

Let us listen.

This hymn is forbidden.

Do you know what they did to your son?

I saw Sid'Ali listening

in his bedroom. And enjoying it.

I couldn't do the errands. - Why?

Everything is closed.

A national strike.

There are policemen everywhere.

Barricades at every post.

I was arrested at Bab Saadoun.

They kept me for 2 hours.

I was lucky.

It will be like with the Germans.

Hard times.

We have to stock up.

Sarra's engagement is coming up.

The country is in danger,

and she thinks about her guests!

Isn't this favoritism?

My word doesn't count anymore?

You should have sent Alia.

She is sick.

I don't like being contradicted!

My back aches.

Massage me.

Fella, help her.

When did it start?

Two days ago.

You haven't had your period?

For two months.

That's it. You're pregnant.

Call for Cherifa.

She's coming for the depilation.

Would you like some coal?


Leave me alone!

Let me go. Leave me alone.

I hate myself. Everything disgusts me.

I hate my body.

After the engagement you'll go

to the farm to supervise the harvest.

France made things worse

by shooting at the demonstrators.

The country is out of control.

May God protect us.

If you want to mope,

you can go down.

You're not irreplaceable.

Has anyone seen Alia?

I sent her to bed.

She mustn't know.

Everything will be done discreetly.

The old man wants to send
them to the farm.

We'll do it later.

Send Alia with them.

No, I don't want to.

An important communiqu?:

The French government,

in accord with the Bey,

considering the dangerous situation,

has declared a state of emergency

and a curfew from 9 at night

to 6 in the morning.

Our lives are like curfews.

We have nothing to be afraid of.

I don't belong to myself.

I want to go out in the street,

naked, barefoot...

to run without being stopped...

to scream and shout out loud.

Only their bullets can shut me up,

passing through me

as if through a sieve.

Is it night?

When night falls, I have a lump in my

I can feel death.

I can no longer breathe.

After the engagement,

you can relax at the farm.

With whom?

With the familiy.

What family?

With Jneina and Memia?

With Sarra. You like her, don't you?

With men too?

Yes, but be careful.

You throw me among them

and you want me to relax?

I hate them. They scare me.

Calm down. Don't be so fickle.

Is that what your Lotfi taught you?

Who is my father?

- He is dead.
- You're lying.

You spend your evenings with the Beys.

Who made you pregnant?

I don't want to see you anymore.

Go away!

I don't want to see you anymore either.

To see you in my mirror!

I don't want to see them anymore...

Why are you doing this?

Are you crazy? What did I do to you?

Calm down.

What can I do?

Leave with me.

Where? I have no one.

I'm scared.

Like the nightmare that
keeps coming back.

I wake up shaking

and I can't remember anything.

I'm tired of being lost.

Where are you from?
Where are your parents?

You never wanted to tell me.

They brought me here when I was ten.

They sold me to the Beys.

The promised to come back on Friday.

Every Friday I went

to ask the gatekeeper.

He laughed.

I returned... paralyzed.

Khalti Hadda hid me.

Don't feel lost.

I am your mother and father.

Stop. I can't stand it anymore.

I have a lot of work to do.

You are worried about them.


Others can serve them, dance for them...

To see you say no, for once!

No, I won't serve.

No, I don't belong to you.

Who do I belong to?


I saw the light of day here,

spent my life here,

afraid to leave.

Where do you want me to go?

And me?

You're driving me crazy!


the baker's waiting for the trays.

Make sure he didn't burn anything,

instead of bothering me.


Make me a spot. Give me your arm.

No, on my beauty spot.

Fella, get ready. We're going upstairs.

There. I'm done.

Sarra, where are you going with those

I'm giving them to Alia.

Khedija, forget about the candles.

Put on the tablecloths.

Sing for me.

Sing and I'll give you my eyes.

Who is singing?

Khedija's daughter. A beautiful voice.

Excuse me.

I'll sing tunes

to inebriate my listeners.

To make the branches
of the trees tremble.

The narcissus and the jasmine.

To attract the sailors

from village to village.

I'll sing again and again,

I'll display the wonders

of my art.

The men will explain it to the djinns.

Those who leave shall tell

those who arrive.

Song is the life of the soul.


the diseased recovers.

Song can mend the broken hearts

the doctors could not cure.

The darkness of the night

becomes light in the eyes of lovers.

Green Tunisia seems in a daze.

Its sadness bursts out in flashes

that shake the sky

and extinguish the stars.

What's wrong?

Khalti Hadda!

Cherish the suffering

of those who have fallen

so that illumination may spread.

After the torment a light appeared

on their foreheads.

Yours bore

the marks of shame and defeat.

Bring hot water and towels. Hurry!

You have surrendered Tunisia

to its enemy.

Plunged in darkness

for a long time,

the despair of the doves

obscures the domes.

But under the ashes

there's an ember

burning for every loving heart.

God wanted it that way.

Let me through!

I didn't even go to her funeral.

Will she forgive me?

She didn't want you

to witness her despair.

She was worried about you.

She never wanted to tell me

who my father was.

Is a father simply a name?

A father is

sweat, pain, and joy.

An entire life. Daily caring.

Listen, my daughter,

there are things in life

that are not worth knowing.

What your mother went through

could drive you crazy too.

God wanted it that way.

At the palace we were taught

one single rule:


I thought Lotfi would save me.

I have not been saved.

Like you, I have suffered.

I've been through a lot.

Like you, I've lived in sin.

My life has been a series of abortions.

I could never express myself.

My songs were stillborn.

And even the child in me,

Lotfi wants me to abort it.

This child...

I feel it has taken root in me.

I feel it bringing me back to life,

bringing me closer to you.

I hope it will be a girl.

I'll call her Khedija.