Arguably the most well-known Palestinian filmmaker today, Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, Omar)’s eighth feature film Huda’s Salon poses as a political thriller, but is more of a psychological thriller set in the politically charged environment of occupied Bethlehem. Most reviewers will tell you to go in unspoiled, and while I don’t fully agree that would make for a better experience, I won’t ruin the “reveal” that occurs in the film’s first scene just in case. It will suffice to say that Huda’s salon cuts more than just hair.
In the tradition of author (and filmmaker) Graham Greene, the political scenario, while not necessarily being a trojan horse for psychological antics, nonetheless allows the individual’s world-shattering to loom, disconnected from the larger world—an inherently un-political move through its disassociation with politics. Like a Greene novel, Huda’s Salon has its share of suicides and suicides gone amiss; affairs, perceived affairs, and could’ve-been affairs; and, of course, espionage and treason.
The film has several moments displaying the crew’s adept and innovative technical skills. The sound editing and mixing are both exceptional: Reem’s baby always cries at just the perfect moment, a ticking clock is about as subtle as a ticking clock can be, and at one point a man’s head hits a wall and creates a deeply unsettling sound that the foley artists should be proud of. I also enjoyed the score’s cues to classical political thrillers and the handful of effect shots. (To avoid spoilers, I won’t say what effect impressed me the most, but I’ll say this: I can’t believe it wasn’t real violence.)
Unlike a Greene novel or Abu-Assad’s own Omar (commonly billed as the first fully-financed Palestinian film and now streaming on Netflix), the psychology isn’t all that compelling.
After the 8ish-minute oner that the film basically opens with, Abu-Assad and his cinematographers (Ehab Assal and Peter Flinckenberg) follow two the stories of two women: Huda (Manal Awad) and Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi), a woman who wants a haircut and ends up toiling in espionage and distortion. The edits between the two stories—choppy and contrived—deprive the film of its psychological potential and dissipate the dramatic tension. The film’s editor, Eyas Salman, isn’t to blame though. He’s a seasoned veteran with some excellent titles under his belt, including Omar. The problem all but certainly originates with the screenplay (also by Abu-Assad), where revelations happen too quickly, motivating desires too misogynistic and gender-myopic, and reconciliations too unearned. There just isn’t much to connect between the two. Huda’s Salon, more importantly, is an impatient film working in a genre where sometimes patience is the key.
dir. Hany Abu-Assad
Presented Sat, Oct 15 at the Museum of Fine Arts as part of the Boston Palestine Film Festival 2022. Huda’s Salon is also available for rental on Amazon Prime and Apple Tv+.