The Palestinian Reem goes to Huda’s salon for a haircut in the morning and takes her newborn baby in a pram. The very friendly hairdresser makes her coffee, but secretly drips a mysterious substance behind her back. After one sip, Reem falls, and when she wakes up, her life is changed forever.
Reem wakes up with her baby next to her in a room she doesn’t know. She is naked and next to her is the rather nice Huda. He shows her a photo that could seriously damage her reputation, and tells her that she must choose: she will work for the secret service as a spy for the Israeli army, or the photo will be sent to her husband. Reem stiffens and flees. She panics and decides to go back to Huda the next day to recover, but the salon seems closed for good. Where is Huda? And more importantly, what happened to her photo?
Huda’s Salon (2021) is the new film by Palestinian-Dutch filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, who previously made The Mountain Between Us (2017) and Paradise Now (2005). The film seems to start as a drama film, but after 10 minutes it turns into a compelling thriller that leaves you with a knot in your stomach. The story is set in occupied territory and revolves around a war that is, at times literally, waged underground. The fact that the film is based on a true story only makes it even scarier. You can feel Reem’s stress through the canvas. That role is phenomenally played by Maisa Abd Elhadi. Manal Awad, who plays Huda, is also impressive.
Women at war
Unlike many other war films, this film revolves around women, and not just about women as mothers or victims of (sexual) violence. Of course our main character is a victim, but this film mainly revolves around the conscious actions of the two female protagonists. The occupation of Palestine has a profound impact on their actions and affects their sense of right and wrong. In the patriarchal state of war, they are extra vulnerable and every crooked step could mean their end, and they both deal with it in different ways.
Those conflicting emotions, the fear and the pain are acted out by the two women really insanely well. Although there are certainly some male characters who also have a significant influence on the plot, the two of them carry the film. In addition, Abu-Assad examines in his film the way in which status and reputation play a role in the war-torn zone in which Reem’s tragic fate unfolds.
Huda’s Salon is exciting, realistic and unpredictable. The pace is fast, leaving little room for reflection during the story. Huda’s Salon is one of the rare films that could have lasted half an hour longer, for some extra breathing room. That could have given the story even more depth, because the current pace drags you relentlessly without looking back. The film will keep you in the hold for an hour and a half and then send you home somewhat confused, with a lot to think about.
Image: Still ‘Huda’s Salon’ via Filmdepot