Rated R. In Arabic with subtitles. On VOD.
From two-time Palestinian/Dutch Academy Award nominee Hany Abu-Assad (“Omar”), “Huda’s Salon” tells the story of two Palestinian women whose lives are threatened by patriarchal forces out of their control.
One of them is a young wife and mother caught between the Israelis and her own people in a life-and-death struggle. She is Reem (Maisa Abd Alhadi, Netflix’s “The Angel”), an ordinary, if also beautiful wife and mother with an infant daughter getting her hair done at Huda’s Salon on the West Bank in opening scenes when something terrible is done to her.
The other woman and the perpetrator of the dark deed is Huda (Manal Awad), who betrays Reem and threatens to destroy Reem’s reputation and ruin her life unless she works for the Israeli Secret Police. Adding to the sense of panic for Reem is that she no longer loves her husband Yousef (Jawal Masarwa) and cannot abide the behavior of his ruffian relatives and judgmental and insulting mother.
“Huda’s Salon” attempts to shed light on what life is like for Palestinians living in occupied parts of the West Bank. When Reem married Yousef, she was in love with him. But she no longer loves him and more importantly knows that she cannot depend on him in a crisis. At first, she tries to ignore the threatening phone calls she receives. Yousef thinks his wife has a lover. But Reem knows that she must either do what the Israeli police want, risking herself and her baby’s future, or hope to survive in disgrace.
At the same time, Huda, who is older, divorced and whose ex-husband will not let her see her sons, is under surveillance by members of the Palestinian resistance. “Huda’s Salon” is Abu-Assad’s follow up to his 2017 survival drama “The Mountain Between Us” with Kate Winslet and Idris Elba as a mismatched pair of travelers stranded on an icy mountaintop when their small plane crashes.
“Huda’s Salon” is in some ways the metaphoric first cousin to that film. Reem and Huda are both entirely isolated. Knowing that she may not have much time to live, Huda gets into a mind-twisting verbal sparring contest with a resistance agent (Ali Suliman), who comes to respect and sympathize with Huda in spite of her betrayal.
Both women wish desperately to get back to “normal.” But nothing is normal or ordinary living under the circumstances forced upon them. In “Huda’s Salon,” Palestinian women appear to live under occupation in more ways than one.
Like Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (“A Hero”), writer-director Abu-Assad wades into the quicksand of moral uncertainty. We see “Death to Traitors” scrawled on a wall. Both women in “Huda’s Salon” are being oppressed by systems run by men. Reem’s tale could have been a horror film about a wife and mother fighting off hordes of zombies to save herself and her little girl. Instead, her story, and Huda’s, are all too believably real.
(“Huda’s Salon” contains violence, profanity and nudity.)