Greetings again from the darkness. Writer-director Hany Abu-Assad has had two films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. OMAR (2013) and PARADISE NOW (2005) were both excellent and deserving of such regard. His latest in ‘based on true events’ from Bethlehem, West Bank in Occupied Palestine. He shows us the intimidating wall around the city and points out the vulnerability of local women.
Reem (Maisa Ebd Elhadi) is in the chair for her appointment with Huda (Manal Awad) at the salon. The banter between the two women shows an obvious connection between a long-time client and her stylist. However, it’s the first visit in a while as Reem has recently had a baby, and the infant is along for this appointment. The cheerful conversation comes to an abrupt halt following Huda’s shocking actions. This extended take is difficult for us as viewers, as we see the entire thing unfold.
The ultimate betrayal between friends leads to a direct conversation that has Reem grasping for a proper solution and fearing for her life. Huda’s actions have placed Reem and her family in imminent danger. Huda has blackmailed Reem into providing information to Israel’s Secret Service … spying on her community. On top of tending to her infant child and worrying about her new perilous situation, Reem is also dealing with a jealous husband at home. Yusef (Jalal Masarwa) thinks his biggest concern is a wife who may be sneaking around on him (she’s not), when in fact, the danger is much more severe.
After the initial sequence in the salon, the bulk of the film is a back and forth between Reem desperately trying to save herself and her baby, and Huda being interrogated by Hasan (Ali Suliman), a Palestinian pushing Huda to identify those she has “turned” in the same manner she blackmailed Reem. The contrast between these two concurrent threads is striking. While both are ominous, Huda is exceedingly cool under pressure while Reem is frantic. The reason for the differences: Huda is resigned to her fate, while Reem remains hopeful.
It’s The Occupation versus The Resistance, and to be a traitor likely means death. But what to do when blackmailed and caught in a no-win situation? That’s Reem’s predicament. At the same time, Huda, already a societal outcast as a divorcee, has played her role and fully understands what that means. To ensure we “get” the existence women are living, director Abu-Assad inserts a scene in a clinic where a pregnant woman begs for another test after it’s announced she’s having another daughter. This perfectly illustrates the value of women caught up in the geopolitical battle between Israel and Palestine.
In theaters and On Demand beginning March 4, 2022