2021, Movies

Huda’s Salon (2021, Hany Abu-Assad)

This is an excellent, taut thriller about blackmail and hard choices in Palestine. It is mostly extremely well done and really worth checking out both for how it works as a movie and for its message of how hard it is to be moral in a place where you feel like you have no allies.

As usual, I would suggest that if you have any interest in a Palestinian thriller about blackmail and spying, you should learn nothing else about it before you watch this. This review contains mild SPOILERS.

Like basically any TIFF film, I didn’t remember what this was about. And I found that particularly helpful in the opening scene, which starts off one way – ala Caramel – and then quickly turns very, very different. The movie splits into two stories, the story of the titular Huda and her interrogation and the story of the last woman she blackmailed.

For me, the experience of the blackmailed woman is the more effective part, as well as the part that is actually a thriller from a genre standpoint. Abd Elhadi is excellent as a new mom who has no faith in her husband and does not know who to turn to for help. She is filmed mostly or entirely by handheld camera and followed as she stumbles around her house and races around town trying to figure out what to do. Music is used extremely judiciously in this movie and most of the time it’s just her and her inner turmoil.

The other half of the film is an interrogation of Huda by a Palestinian group that is fighting against Israel. Though parts of this are compelling as well, this is less well done – it feels a little bit like a quid pro quo Battle of the Sexes that belongs in a play. One scene in particular, in which Huda “negotiates” to learn more about her captor feels extremely artificial, not just stagey but contrived. But it is mostly better than that and Huda’s eventual capitulation makes that scene feel more necessary later on.

There are also a few moments of (very) dark comedy in the thriller part, which I think helps us cope with what is otherwise a pretty depressing movie. Also, personally, I enjoy thrillers with comedic moments more than those without.

On the whole it’s a pretty good film, and my one quibble about the staginess of the interrogation scenes is a minor one. There’s enough in the thriller part to make up for it.

8/10

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