Change is the only constant in Villa Touma
by Saara Vahermägi
- VENICE 2014: Three spinster sisters cling desperately to the past in the new film by Suha Arraf
Juliette (Nisreen Faour), Violet (Ula Tabari) and Antoinette (Cherien Dabis) are three sisters who share a common fear – the fear of time and change. They have comfortably created their own microcosm in the large house they live in. As a result of their own hard work, time has been at a standstill at Villa Touma for over 30 years – until one day their niece, Badia (Maria Zreik), leaves the orphanage she grew up in to come and live with them.
With no time to waste, the aunts try their hardest to turn Badia into a suitable inhabitant in their little world, teaching her French and finding her a piano teacher. But the girl proves to be a piece of a jigsaw that just won’t fit into the slot it’s being forced into. Therefore, the aunts settle on one common goal – to marry Badia off to a suitable man, as quickly as possible. But with no eligible bachelors in sight, the three sisters grow desperate. And as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures…
Suha Arraf’s second feature film, which premiered in the Venice International Film Critics’ Week programme, is about the impossibility of fighting change. While one aunt, Juliette, tries to fight it by teaching out-of-date etiquette and customs to Badia, another one, Violet, ignores change by refusing to look in the mirror. The youngest aunt, Antoinette, is the most likeable and seemingly the only one who realises that fighting against time and change is a meaningless endeavour. But when Badia asks her why she didn’t leave her home when the man she loved fled the country, Antoinette is silent – the fear of the unknown, modern world is as deeply rooted in her as it is in her older sisters.
The performances in Villa Touma are entertaining and convincing, and build up very strong characters – the three aunts played by Faour, Tabari and Dabis appear as though they are from a fairy-tale, rather like the princess-like role of Badia. But Villa Touma is a fairy-tale with an eery undertone, which does not bode well for the film’s conclusion.
The film created a buzz at Venice, owing to the fact it is a Palestinian movie financed largely by Israeli funds. Next, Villa Touma will travel to Canada for its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.