Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad, a young mother who is married to a jealous man goes to Huda’s salon in Bethlehem. However, this ordinary visit turns sour when Huda blackmails the mother to have her work for the secret service of the occupying force. Starring: Manal Awad, Ali Suliman, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Kamel El Basha, Samer Bisharat and Omar Abu Amer.
There’s an almost immediate air to Huda’s Salon which holds a dark and heavy tone. As it moves forward the grip gets tighter and adds a stark atmosphere, using a surprising bluntness and unexpected violence to fully cement it. Hany Abu-Assad’s directorial style feels fairly minimal, it doesn’t attempt to glamorise or quicken the fear and tension, there’s almost a bare bones quality to it. Its opening could easily be mistaken for a documentary which sets things off on very real and sincere footing.
Although, as the film progresses, it starts to lean a little too heavily on the politics, and the tension and pace get lost within it. Having a larger understanding of the political landscape will make it easier to overlook but for everyone else, it begins to slow down too much. There’s also not a lot actually happening, split between Huda’s (Awad) interrogation and Reem’s (Elhadi) struggle to find a resolution to the blackmail, both are fairly still and dialogue based. Especially when mixed with its minimal directorial style, things struggle to ever really get moving, which then restricts its big finale from feeling that satisfying. It does however capture a good match up in Huda and Hasan (Suliman), it’s a surprisingly fun battle of wills, with a few nicely chosen subtle power moves and unexpected connections.
Scenes that are wonderfully portrayed by both Manual Awad and Ali Suliman, both bring a different kind of stoicism and passion. They’re both intelligent, cunning yet caring characters, who are willing to go as far as it takes to save their own skin. It’s very interesting to watch within the context of its potentially severe, violent consequences. Whereas Maisa Abd Elhadi’s performance is completely raw and emotional, she’s on the very edge and scrambling to find a way out. She’s also contemplating her relationship with her husband and whether he’s just typically sexist or would really walk away in her time of need. Samir Bisharat gets plenty of points for making her husband an increasingly detestable character, he may not get overly involved but he makes a clear impression.
Huda’s Salon had fantastic potential for a thrilling story bursting with unbearable tension but unfortunately it takes too restrained of a route. It focuses a little too much on politics and not enough on pushing forward and intensifying the events and emotions at hand. The performances are top notch, Awad, Suliman and Elhadi all bring a lot to the table but the pacing and scaled back nature of the film don’t let them reach their full potential. It’s a harsh tale of a practically no win situation, but it didn’t make the most of its tension and dark atmosphere to truly keep you gripped.