Moufida Tlatli, the pioneering Tunisian film-maker hailed as the first Arab woman to direct a feature film, has died aged 73. News media said that she died on Sunday, with the news confirmed by the Tunisian ministry of culture.
Tlatli remains best known for her breakthrough 1994 feature The Silences of the Palace, a lyrical study of a woman’s return to an abandoned royal residence, which tackled the themes of exploitation and trauma as experienced across generations of Arab women. It won a string of international awards, including the Sutherland trophy at the London film festival for the most “original and imaginative” film of the year, and was named as one of Africa’s 10 best films by critic and director Mark Cousins. The film was inspired by her mother’s difficult life; in 2001, Tlatli told the Guardian she “was riven with guilt … It was so insupportable, exhausting, suffocating.”
By becoming a director, Tlatli had broken the mould: “Traditionally in the Arab film world, a girl works in continuity or is an editor. I had never thought of making films.” In her next film, released in 2000, Tlatli dealt with not dissimilar material about relations between the sexes. The Season of Men is about a community on the Tunisian island of Djerba whose males spend most of the year away working, and return only for a month. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called it “a beautifully lucid, compassionate film [and] a powerful and deeply engaging family drama”. Like Silences of the Palace, The Season of Men found much favour on the international film circuit, winning a number of awards.
Tlatli was born in 1947 in Sidi Bou Said and studied film editing in Paris, before returning to Tunisia in 1972 to work as an editor. She completed a third feature, Nadia et Sarra, in 2004, starring Palestinian actor-director Hiam Abbass.
In 2011, Tlatli was appointed minister for culture in the transitional government after the Tunisian revolution.