Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad, “Huda’s Salon” is an Arabic thriller drama film showcasing the terrible misery of women in Israel-occupied Palestine. Based on true events, the film presents two women, Reem and Huda, whose lives get intertwined based on events forced by the cruel condition of the society and situation they reside in. With a tight plot spanning over just two days and a style of direction that adds on to the tense fervor of the frenzy that follows, “Huda’s Salon” is quite an interesting watch of ninety minutes.
‘Huda’s Salon’ Plot Summary
The foundation of the plot is first set: it is the city of Bethlehem, in the West Bank area of Palestine, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Since 2002, the occupation authorities have begun constructing a separation wall around the city, which has only made life inside the wall more difficult, leading citizens into far more vulnerable situations. Any movement by Palestinians into or out of the West Bank area is now dependent on a special permit issued by the Israeli secret service.
Amidst such a scenario, a young woman, Reem, who has only recently become a mother, goes in for a haircut at a local salon. This salon, simply called Huda’s salon, is run by a middle-aged woman, Huda, who seems to be very well acquainted with Reem. As Reem is the only customer in the shop at the time, the two women have a friendly conversation about business, life, social media, and men. Reem is not in the happiest of marriages, her husband constantly keeps doubting her faithfulness, and her infant daughter is who she only looks forward to.
Preparing towards the haircut, Huda offers Reem a drink, and she asks for coffee. However, as Reem is busy talking about her life, Huda clearly mixes something in the coffee. She denies having added anything extra to the coffee when Reem tastes something different, but within a few moments, things take a very dark turn as Reem falls unconscious.
Opening the door to a hidden room inside the salon, Huda carries Reem into it, helped by a young man who had been hiding inside all this time. The two then strip the unconscious woman off all her clothes. Huda sticks her eyelids open to make her appear awake, and the man then lies down beside her, completely naked. Huda then takes compromising photographs of the two, but also does not allow the man to touch her. Once Reem wakes up from her drugged slumber, she discovers herself in the room with only a robe around her and her baby lying beside her. Huda tells her of her alternate identity—she is part of the Israeli secret service, and she gives them information about the rebel militants, their movements, their gun and ammunition stocks, and so on. She now wants Reem to be a part of the same service and threatens to leak her photographs if she in any way reveals Huda’s role in this ploy.
Major Spoilers Ahead
The Bad Women: What Is Huda’s Real Intention?
Terribly shocked and broken down, Reem somehow returns home, clutching her baby by her side. But she is not in a better place inside her home either, for she has to constantly keep up with her husband’s joking and sneering remarks about her non-existent boyfriend. Reem keeps playing back in her mind the terrible turmoil that she now finds herself in: Huda had given her a number to call to reach the Israeli secret service, and had also kept multiple copies of the photographs she had taken.
In a tight-knit society like the one Reem lives in, it is dangerous from both sides—it would be dangerous (perhaps fatally) to be found engaging in adultery outside of marriage, as the photographs wrongly suggest, and also to be found working as a spy for the opposition’s secret service. That very night, as Reem struggles to put her baby to sleep, a group of men barge into Huda’s residence and abduct her. The men are revealed to be members of the Palestinian resistance movement, and their leader, Hasan, goes through the entire house and store, finding compromising photographs of fifteen women whom Huda had trapped in a similar manner as Reem. Huda is brought to their secret headquarters and interrogated for hours about who she is and what she has been doing with the women. The young man who Huda used to hire for the photographs is also tracked down by the men of the Resistance, and he is burnt alive when he tries to plead his innocence.
After sometime Huda reveals that the Israeli service had found her with a man and threatened her to work for them or else they would reveal her secrets to her husband. Due to the tremendously orthodox and conservative society in Palestine, women would rather choose death than be divorced. But Huda had ultimately been divorced by her husband some years later, and the law had even taken away her right to see her children, whom she had brought up almost single-handedly. Since then, Huda concentrated on running the salon and recruiting (through blackmail) other women for the service, in exchange for some little money and her life, as the service would have killed her off otherwise. During the interrogation, Huda keeps repeating the innocence of the women who she had forced to work, and instead asks Hasan to punish her because she is the one guilty. On the other side, Reem tries to contact Huda on her mobile phone, but the call is instead received by one of the Resistance members, who starts to track her number.
Reem decides to flee to Jordan, but she very soon realizes that she would need a permit from the Occupation government to do that. In a fit of fear and frenzy, she tries contacting the number Huda had given her, of the Israeli secret service, but they first ask for information in exchange for help, and then her husband walks in, taking her phone away. While the Resistance is drawing closer to her home, she has a terrible fallout with her husband, who leaves with the child, locking Reem in from the outside. Unable to decide what else to do, Reem decides to kill herself. She locks herself inside her room with an unsealed gas cylinder, waiting to be slowly killed by gas poisoning.
At first glance, “Huda’s Salon” is about the tremendously complicated situation that the Israeli occupation has created in Palestine and the everyday struggles that ordinary citizens have to live through because of that. But throughout the entire film, it itself makes clear that the main focus is on the women—the two seen directly in the film, and the countless others who can be thought of going through similar mishaps. The troubles that the two female characters go through in the film are never understood by their male counterparts (husband and interrogator), for their miseries are mostly created by the patriarchal society. In the hospital, Reem overhears a woman who is scared to tell her husband that she is suffering from breast cancer because he would divorce her if he knew, and “she’d rather die than get a divorce.”
It is not that the film tries to, or wants to, ignore the crimes of Huda; she herself does not want that to happen, but her reasons are aptly explained, and her struggles are felt. The character of Huda is as strong and at times overpowering as the male leader Hasan. By the end, she is able to not just convince him to spare Reem, but also make her exit on her own accord. Sadly, the exit for Huda was always death, and she was killed by the Resistance members, but she had made two demands: that she be killed with one bullet shot, and that the shot should not be on her face, both of which were followed.
“Huda’s Salon” Ending Explained: A New Beginning Of Hope?
As Reem calmly eats an apple, waiting for the gas leak to kill her, she realizes that the cylinder has run out of gas, and she cannot kill herself either. Out of sheer frustration and anger, she calls up Musa, the Israeli secret service member once again, who tells her to wait at her house as a man would come to pick her up in half an hour. Reem then calls Huda’s cell phone again, which is now in possession of the Resistance force, and tells them that she has changed her mind and would like to help the Resistance by leading them to Musa. After some time, Hasan calls her up, saying that her husband and daughter are safe with them and that she will not be punished as Huda has proved her innocence to them, and he asks her to only help with getting hold of Musa and his team of secret service. Reem has a slight smile on her face as the phone call comes to an end and the screen cuts to black. It is difficult to think of a possibility where Reem goes completely unharmed and unpunished, for the society and the system established will not let that happen. She is perhaps only happy that her little daughter is safe, and that her photograph has now been destroyed. By its end, the film already establishes a sense of doubt in the viewer’s mind with regards to the lies that the men tell to get their work done. In the last scene, too, there is such a prevailing sense; Hasan only tells Reem of her safety, but there is just no trust that it is bound to happen.
“Huda’s Salon” creates a beautiful chaos of not being able to take sides. All the sides presented have their flaws, and it is almost impossible to completely sympathize with one. The only exception, of course, is the protagonist, Reem, who is the only one with no wrongs. The film is quite powerful at times, and at others, it is still quite an enjoyable and thought-provoking watch.
“Huda’s Salon” is a 2021 Crime Drama film written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad.