After growing too old to stay in the orphanage she’s known her whole life, Badia (Maria Zreik) moves in with her three unmarried aunts, Violet (Ula Tabari), Antoinette (Cherien Dabis) and Juliette (Nisreen Faour). Seemingly trapped in time, the three Christian sisters behave as if their aristocratic social status still matters, despite the many changes that have come to Ramallah since the Six-Day War in 1967. Nonplussed by their new lodger, the sisters set about marrying her off to another family of high status, if they can only find someone who will take her.
Suha Arraf’s Villa Touma is a tragedy full of subtle humor. The individual tales of the sisters, that have left them in suspended animation, are heartbreaking, and you fear for Badia achieving a similar fate. At the same time, it is somewhat entertaining to see the attempts at grooming Badia to be the woman they wish her to be. But then, again, comes the tragedy of what that would mean for her life.
It’s this balance of tone, coupled with the performances, that keeps the film intriguing. There’s a comfort to the story that puts one at ease, almost to the point where you forget how large the stakes are for Badia. This could be a more madcap comedy if it felt like it; it could also be a more melodramatic experience. Instead it picks a middle ground that makes it compelling and unique.
Nothing feels false, nothing feels forced. It’s a solid film about a collection of (arguably) less-spiteful Miss Havishams doing what they think is best for themselves, and maybe Badia. Without giving anything away, the power dynamics that shift over the course of their journey are as interesting to watch as the more obvious narrative developments. It’d be so much fun if it wasn’t ultimately so sad and tragic.