Wednesday, March 2, 2022

A Palestinian woman faces impossible choices

    Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad tackles a series of difficult issues in Huda's Salon, a movie in which a hair appointment triggers a complicated series of choices for a woman living in the West Bank. 
   Initially, it seems as if Huda's Salon will be a genial look at interactions between an ordinary woman and her hairdresser, a salon-based movie in which casual conversations become increasingly revealing.
   When the movie begins, Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi) is having her hair washed by Huda (Manal Awad), who owns the salon that gives the movie its title.
   The two chat about Reem's controlling husband (Jarwal Masarwa). Reem wants to return to work as a hairdresser; her obsessively jealous husband wants her to play the traditional roles of wife and mother to their infant daughter.
    Then, the entire shape of the movie shifts. 
    It's difficult to say more without including spoilers, but I'll tell you that Huda involves Reem in a situation that puts her under great stress. She connives to force Reem into spying for the Israelis. 
    The rest of the movie involves the ways in which Reem tries to escape the vice grip of a situation in which there seem to be no good choices. 
      Huda eventually falls into the hands of the resistance and is subjected to interrogation by Hassan (Ali Suliman).  Scenes between Huda and her captor feel a bit like a stage play in which two opposing characters learn that they share some of the same weaknesses.
    An Israeli presence is mostly implied but it's clear that Abu-Assad wants to explore life in a pressure cooker environment in which issues of patriarchy, politics, and betrayal collide.
    Elhadi conveys the fury and frustration of a woman trapped by marriage and circumstances over which she has little control. Awad's Huda expresses the deep resignation of a compromised woman who long ago abandoned hope that she could survive.
    Abu-Assad ratchets up tension -- even though his direction hardly can be called slick or supple. 
    By the time Huda's Salon concludes, we're as conflicted as the characters about the harsh decisions they're forced to make. I'm guessing that's precisely where Abu-Assad wanted to leave us.

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