Within its first five minutes, Huda’s Salon takes a left turn. New mother Reem (Masa Abd Elhadi) thinks she is at her friend’s salon for a quick haircut and style in the West Bank of Palestine. She sits and chats with the shop’s owner Huda (Manal Awad) who washes her hair, makes small talk and then offers Reem a coffee. What starts out as a much-needed break from her duties as a loyal wife to a slacker husband, turns into a woman’s worst nightmare and biggest betrayal.
Like Reem, Huda lulls us into a false sense of security within the film’s first five minutes. The women chat about neighborhood gossip, issues on Facebook, and Reem falling out of love with her distrusting husband. Their rapport is sisterly, motherly, almost familial – which makes Huda drugging Reem’s drink more jarring.
Huda sets to work after that, taking her client to a back room where she takes her through a routine she has clearly done before. The tone has changed on a dime and director Hany Abu-Assad (The Mountain Between Us, Paradise Now) wastes no time pushing this twist until the film’s end.
Palestinian-born director Abu-Assad has spent his career unpacking the complexities of the country’s political conflict on the West Bank. Huda’s Salon is no different as the film’s two opposing forces are the Palestinian resistance and the Israeli Secret Service, which controls who can and can’t enter the West Bank.
Huda’s plan soon becomes clear. She is recruiting women with unstable home lives into becoming spies for the secret service. However, her plan is thwarted by resistance soldiers that soon catch on to her plan. It’s too late for Reem though, who must navigate her next move amid dealing with her trauma and unsupportive husband.
Abu-Assad makes his most interesting points while focusing on Huda’s capture with interrogator Hasan (Ali Suliman). Here the writer/director explores a woman’s own culpability and guilt in war-torn situations. Does your victimhood negate your own wrong-doings? Does doing something out of survival make you culpable?
While the film’s first 10 minutes capture Huda’s horrific actions, Abu-Assad spends the rest of Huda’s storyline humanizing her. Hasan is supposed to be the ideal Muslim, who literally holds judgment against all of Huda’s victims. It is the salon owner herself who takes full responsibility and begs her victims to not be punished.
These two opposing forces don’t work as effectively as the director thinks it does, eventually fizzling out. Reem’s story on the other hand seems to be running on all cylinders at all times with little empathy fueling it. The story drifts into melodrama with the young mother’s homelife and even tries its hand at comedy to try to relieve some of the tension. Any merit Huda’s Salon has lies with the titular character and her captor and it is not enough to save the entire film from feeling like a procedural drama on CBS.
IFC Films has yet to announce a release date for Huda’s Salon. A trailer has not been released. However, you can watch a clip below.