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Film Review: Villa Touma
by Jenny Mather

Director: Suha Arraf Palestine

In a slowly decaying house in Ramallah three aging spinsters live out their lives. The sisters are Christian, were born into a well-to-do family and cling to the ideals and customs inherited from their parents. They exist in a time warp and are separated from their neighbours by their social status and their religion. Ramallah is in Palestine and the sisters try hard to shut out the horrors of that war torn country.

 “If we hear bullets we keep on walking with our heads held high,” says Violett, the oldest (and nastiest) of the sisters.

The movie opens with their niece Badja leaving an orphanage and going to live with her aunts. The genteel ladies have two tasks, one is to change her uncouth ways and the other is to marry her off as quickly as possible. They set about finding an eligible Christian bachelor from a socially acceptable background. These are thin on the ground in Ramallah. Badia is obedient and accepts her aunts’ way of life. She dresses in dowdy clothes from a bygone era and provides amusement for people on the street when she accompanies them to church.

When an unmarried and unsuspecting Christian chap is found and invited with his mother to tea, Antoinette, the middle sister, spitefully blurts out that Badja didn’t attend finishing school in Paris and is the daughter of their brother who, horror of horrors, married a Muslim woman. Exit the bachelor, whose mother soon marries him off to someone more suitable.

It is at the wedding that Badja catches the eye of the dashing singer entertaining the guests. When he invites Badja to dance it is the cue for the aunts to whisk her away.

“He’s probably from one of the refugee camps,” sniffs Violett.

Nothing daunted, the star crossed pair arrange moonlight trysts in the villa’s garden and soon Badja is in love. The youngest and kindest sister, Juliet, becomes aware of the strange happenings in the night and befriends her niece. Juliet once had an admirer too, but Violet insisted that he wasn’t good enough for her and he “emigrated to America, as they all do,” she says regretfully.

Can such a story end in happiness and can the aunts start to change their perception of their changing world? Director Suha Araff provides a glimpse into a country we know little about and has made an absorbing movie full of subtlety and nuance. This funny, fascinating and memorable movie hints at salvation for its characters.