OFFICIAL COMPETITION (2022, Spain)

June 16, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Satire is one of the most challenging cinematic genres to get right. The script and performances are crucial, and the director must walk a fine line between too subtle and over-the-top. The long-time collaborative filmmaking team of co-writers and co-directors Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat, along with co-writer Andres Duprat, strike just the right chord and deliver a gem that is funny, insightful, and quite entertaining. The film was well received at last year’s Venice Film Festival, but is only now getting distribution.

We open on Don Umberto Suarez (Jose Luis Gomez), a wealthy pharmaceutical businessman, as he peruses the many gifts that have arrived for his 80th birthday. He’s in a reflective mood and wonders what he can do to secure his legacy so as not to be forgotten. Suarez debates between building a bridge or financing a “great” movie, one that will stand the test of time. He knows nothing of the film industry, and doesn’t bother to read the best-seller book he secures the rights to. He then meets with eccentric film director Lola Cuevas (Oscar winner Penelope Cruz, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, 2008), yet seems oblivious to what we see – her vision runs contrary to his, as evidenced by her production notebook that looks like a teenager’s scrapbook from summer camp. She buys in to his “best cast” demands and leaves him believing “his” film is in good hands.

Ms. Cruz is so perfect in this role that even her giant frizzy flame-red wig is simpatico with director Lola’s intense personality as an auteur. Things really take off when rehearsal begins and her two lead actors arrive. Antonio Banderas plays Felix Rivero, a global movie star who lives the rock star life with women and sports cars. He’s the personality antithesis of his co-star Ivan Torres, played by Oscar Martinez, a self-absorbed stage actor who views his world as prestigious, while mocking the glitz, glamor, and money that rules Felix’s world. An architecturally stunning art institute funded by Suarez serves as the rehearsal site, since it sits empty and unused.

Felix and Ivan are to play rival brothers, and the tension that develops between the two men is hilarious … and further spurred by Lola’s acting exercises. She prods Ivan on the simple line, “Good evening”, forcing him to repeat it multiple times, just as she toys with Felix on his level of intoxication (a range of 1 to 10). To increase the tension, Lola has the men rehearse underneath a giant boulder dangling overhead by crane. As the two actors battle it out for respect from the other and favoritism from Lola, the humor escalates at the same pace as egos are wounded. After scoffing at the mention of Felix’s awards, Ivan secretly practices his Oscar-acceptance speech in his dressing room. It becomes clear that each of the men want what the other has: Felix wants prestige, while Ivan wants recognition.

There are so many terrific scenes and moments here, including a foreshadowed twist and a sequence that combines industry awards, an industrial shredder, and the strength of Saran Wrap. All three lead actors are having a blast, and the supporting cast lends authenticity to this skewering of wealth, ego, art, and the film industry. Especially effective in support are Irene Escolar as Suarez’s daughter who has been cast in the film, and Pilar Castro as Violetta, Ivan’s equally pretentious wife. This is satire at it’s finest, and the filmmakers (and Ms. Cruz) even nail the ending. Kudos to one of my favorite movies of the year.

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THE INNOCENTS (2022)

May 12, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Norwegian filmmaker Eskil Vogt wrote the screenplay for last year’s terrific THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD, and that’s just one of his collaborations with fellow countryman Joachim Trier. The two seem to enjoy, or at least have a knack, for creating films that take viewers out of their comfort zone. This is Vogt’s second feature as director, and you will likely find yourself questioning your ideals of the complexities of childhood and debating what makes a kid “good” or “bad”.

A family moves to a new apartment so that their eldest daughter Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) can receive the best possible treatment for her non-verbal autism (seemingly trapped inside her own body). Anna’s younger sister Ida (Rakel Leonora Flottum) spends an inordinate amount of time on her own as their mother (Ellen Dorrit Petersen is also Rakel’s real life mother; THELMA, 2017) focuses on Anna. Immediately we are struck by how cruel Ida is to Anna, obviously envious of the time her parents devote to the child in need. The film moves meticulously as Ida befriends Ben (Sam Ashraf), a young boy from the same apartment building. Ben has an ability to move things with his mind. His telekinesis is in the early stages, and Ida pushes him to develop his powers. One particularly disturbing sequence involves the two kids and a local cat at the top of the building’s stairwell. Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), another young girl from the building starts hanging out with Ida and Ben. This also draws in Anna, as the sweet Aisha has a connection with her and a way of communicating telepathically. It’s at this point where our brains shift into overdrive as we realize there is something supernatural going on.

As Ben’s ability grows, so does his sadistic nature. He reacts (often violently) to situations where he feels disrespected. At the same time, Anna and Aisha grow closer, and Ida and her parents are thrilled with Anna’s improved demeanor. As viewers, we come to realize that director Vogt has made the apartment building a character itself. Is the building behind the special abilities shown by these kids?  Or is it the ominous nearby forest? Why are the powers strongest when the kids are together? For a film that mostly progresses very slowly, there is much for us to take in – although we do wish more time had been spent on the makeup of all four kids. We are only teased with what other kids in the building are experiencing, but the supernatural aura is clearly in play.

None of the four child actors have any previous feature film experience, yet each is superb in their own way. They perfectly capture the curiosity and confusion that goes with childhood, and there is an insightful “kid” moment when Ida shows her one ‘talent’ to Ben. We are left to wonder if the film’s identical title to the 1961 classic is coincidental or purposeful. It’s not a remake, but it works as an homage. The staircase shot is even similar in the two films. Filmmaker Voigt excels at ensuring we believe something evil is just around the corner, yet he never rushes to the next moment. An eerie, ominous atmosphere is perfectly complemented by these four kids. Vogt’s dark film sticks the ending, and stays with us for a while.

Opening May 13, 2022

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ANAIS IN LOVE (2022)

April 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Barely five minutes in, we have concluded that Anais is a whirlwind of activity. She’s behind on her rent and yet turns the conversation with her landlord to fruit juice and a smoke alarm. This is the first feature film from writer-director Charline Bougeois-Tacquet who benefits greatly with the presence of lead actor Anais Demoustier. I have no idea if the name is a coincidence or whether this was written with her in mind, but we quickly realize that Anais is a mess … a charming mess and one for which hope remains.

Anais is always late. She walks, runs, or rides her bicycle everywhere. Her bright red lipstick is always on display, and she’s claustrophobic and prefers to sleep alone. The constant twinkle in her eye means folks look past her seemingly carefree approach to real life, as she makes the best of each landing spot in her directionless path(s) through each day. We observe and learn all of these things on top of the big secret she’s been keeping from her boyfriend Raoul (Christophe Montenez). During the exchange they have when he breaks up with her, she says, “You are violent in your inertia.” This may be my favorite line of the year. What others view as stability and dependability, Anais views as inertia and unappealing.

When Anais takes Daniel (Denys Podalydes) as a lover, it’s the older, married man who ends it by stating he doesn’t want his life to change. Anais shrugs and turns her attention and affections to Daniel’s wife, Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, HUMAN CAPITAL, sister of Carla Bruni). Emilie is a famous author and Anais worms her way in by tracking Emilie to Normandy where she’s holding a symposium. Writing, books, and literature play subtle yet key roles throughout … as if Anais is trying to live out so many of the stories she’s read.

If there is anything lacking here, it’s traditional character conflict. Even the surprise collision of Daniel, Emilie, and Anais at the symposium doesn’t pack the dramatic or comedic punch we would expect. Anais is never much concerned, so neither are we as viewers. We are too enamored and intrigued with her energy and spirit to let real life cause consternation. The subplot with Anais’ mother is the closest we see Anais come to ‘normal’ emotions, but even getting to that point, is yet another whirlwind.

In theaters April 29, 2022 and On Demand May 6, 2022

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HATCHING (2022)

April 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. The exceptionally creepy creature leads us to believe this could be a terrific new addition to the creature feature genre. However, director Hanna Bergholm and screenwriter Ilja Rautsi expend so much time and energy on the metaphor aspect that we feel a bit bludgeoned by the end. Despite some wonderful horror elements, we find ourselves thinking, ‘alright, already … just stick with the creepy stuff!’

We open in a beautiful home with pristine design features, where a beautiful mother (Sophia Heikkila) is filming her beautiful family for her vlog, appropriately titled “Lovely Everyday Life.” Of course, we all know what happens to perfect little families in movies – the façade cracks. We get our first taste of beautiful mother’s not-so-beautiful true nature as she deals with the crow that flies in through an open window and destroys some of the beautiful decorations displayed in the home. Things get interesting when Tinja (a superb Siiri Solalinna), the 12-year-old gymnast daughter, recovers an egg from the intrusive bird’s nest and “mothers” it until the egg (the metaphorical façade) cracks open after growing to an enormous size. Out pops a bizarre looking “baby” bird that Tinja names Alli, after the song her family sings.

It doesn’t take long for Tinja (and us) to figure out what’s happening. The bird not only assumes Tinja is her mother, but it also takes on the emotions that Tinja keeps bottled up inside so as to not upset her overly-demanding mother. See, mom is a former skater and projects her dreams of glory onto her daughter through gymnastics. We never even get the impression that Tinja enjoys the sport, and it’s likely she does it because that’s the only closeness she gets from dear old mom … especially when compared to her little brother Mattias (Oiva Ollila) or dad (Jani Volanen). In fact, mom is so dominant over dad, that she’s taken on a side lover in handyman Tero (Reino Nordin), who she admits to loving in yet another inappropriate moment with Tinja.

Soon the bird is acting out Tinja’s private thoughts to extremes (a true monster in the closet), and no one is really safe. There are some creepy elements that tell us an excellent horror-comedy is in there somewhere. Watching Tinja sponge-bathe the creature and the replicant effects are both imaginative. Ms. Bergholm’s film premiered at Sundance, and if anything, it’s just a bit too ambitious with the metaphors. We can view this as a coming-of-age story for Tinja as she breaks the shackles of childhood for more independent thinking. And the most obvious interpretation is that of a mother so obsessed with perfection – especially as to how her family is presented to the outside world – that it requires an ugly incident (bird) as a dose of reality. This is clearly commentary on social media and how some become so committed to presenting and maintaining a certain image. As a horror-comedy, the film from Finland offers neither jump-scares nor laugh-outloud moments, but there is enough here for a decent midnight offering.

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PARIS, 13TH DISTRICT (2022)

April 15, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Jacques Audiard is one of the filmmakers who has won my cinematic loyalty through his consistently thought-provoking and entertaining films. His five features since 2005 have all been excellent: THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005), A PROPHET (2009), RUST AND BONE (2012), DEEPHAN (2015), THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018). This latest is a different kind of story for Audiard, and it’s based on the stories from animator Adrian Tomine. Audiard adapted the screenplay with Nicholas Livecchi, Lea Mysius, and Celine Sciamma (writer and director of PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, 2019). The result is a unique vision of modern-day love set in an area of Paris that is rarely featured in films.

Audiard gives us a REAR WINDOW-esque opening that lands on a couple evidently singing naked Karaoke. We are then informed, “It began like this.” Emilie (newcomer Lucie Zhang) is a tele-salesperson augmenting her income by renting out a room in her apartment … well, it’s her grandmother’s apartment, but she is confined to a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s. Emilie wants a female roommate and Camile is the first to schedule a showing. Only Camile (Makita Samba) isn’t female. Instead, he’s a handsome teacher working on his doctorate, and since there is a spark between he and Emilie, she agrees to let him move in. The attraction plays out as you would imagine, right up until Camile slams on the brakes and informs a frustrated Emilie that he has no intention of being a couple, and soon invites another lady friend over for an evening of intimacy. The micro-aggressions between Emilie and Camile escalate, and soon he moves out.

Next we meet thirty-something Nora (Noemie Merlant, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE) who is excited (almost giddy) to be headed back to law school. It doesn’t take long for classmates to mistake her for a popular online sexy cam-girl named Amber Sweet. The mistaken identity and bullying cause Nora to drop out and return to her previous profession – real estate. It turns out the local office is being managed by Camile, who, disillusioned with teaching, is looking for a fresh start by helping out a friend. Nora sets the ground rules and the two maintain a professional relationship, right up to the point where they cross the line and become lovers.

Audiard shoots most of the film in black and white, which gives it the timeless feel of so many French romantic dramas over the years. The difference here stems from the sexual dynamics and interconnected stories and characters all within Paris’ 13th arrondissement. One of the terrific storylines has Nora cultivating a chat relationship with the same Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth of the English rock band Savages) she was mistaken for. Personal grief plays a role with two of the main characters, while a dark family secret burdens another. This emphasizes how we each carry the past and it sticks with us regardless of the path we choose. The film also reinforces how there are invariably contradictions in how we see ourselves and our actual behavior. These characters may engage in casual sex, though by the end, it’s clear each wants more than they are willing to admit. Things wrap up pretty neatly in the end, but the road travelled is a bit rocky.

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MOTHERING SUNDAY (2022)

April 8, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Every writer has a story about what inspired them to put words on the page. What we have here is Eva Husson directing a script from Alice Birch (LADY MACBETH, 2016) who has adapted the 2016 novella from British author Graham Swift. We follow Jane Fairchild through three stages, as her work as a maidservant allows her to become “an occupational observer of life.”

It’s Mothers’ Day 1924 and Jane (Odessa Young, SHIRLEY, 2020) is anticipating her latest romantic tryst with Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor, EMMA., 2020). Both know this is their final time together, and they take full advantage. Jane’s employers, Godfrey and Clarrie Niven, are meeting Paul’s parents for a celebratory luncheon with Emma (Emma D’Arcy), the ‘proper’ woman Paul is to marry. Oscar winner Colin Firth (THE KING’S SPEECH, 2010) and Oscar winner Oliva Colman (THE FAVOURITE, 2018) play the Nivens, and deaths from WWI hang over all of these families like the darkest of clouds.

The story is told in non-linear fashion, with Jane and Paul’s final lovemaking session being that which all other events seem to revolve. We also spend some time with Jane in her 40’s as she is living with her philosopher husband Donald (Sope Dirisu), and then in her 80’s as she is celebrated as a renowned and prize-winning author. In this last stage, Jane is surprisingly played by the great Glenda Jackson, a two-time Oscar winner (A TOUCH OF CLASS, 1973, and WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969), who has only appeared in a handful of TV movies these past thirty years. Ms. Jackson turns 86 next month, and spent time as an elected member of Parliament. She’s always been an interesting person, and it’s terrific to see her back on the big screen – even if she only gets a couple of brief scenes followed by one substantial one near the end.

It’s a beautiful film and it’s sensuously photographed, though maybe a bit odd in that it focuses so diligently on the visuals (thanks to cinematographer Jamie D Ramsay), while actually following a woman’s journey into writing. Love (or lack of it) and grief and life’s transitions are all on display, as are the harsh realities of class differences. Ms. Young and Mr. O’Connor are both terrific, and though she has minimal screen time, we are stunned again at just how much emotion Ms. Colman can convey with her face.

Memories and recollections of “that day” play a crucial role as the mature Jane wrestles with writing her novel … one that her publisher expects to be a thriller. Of course, we watch as Jane’s story plays out, so we know where her writing is headed. The film has a vagueness to its storytelling that prevents us from ever fully engaging with Jane or any of the rich, sad people, yet it’s such a beautiful film to look at that we never seem to mind.

In theaters on April 8, 2022

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ALINE (2022)

April 8, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Ana Gasteyer’s “Saturday Night Live” parody of Celine Dion not-so-humbly announcing herself as “the greatest singer in the world” was brilliant sketch comedy and good for a hearty laugh. All these years later, filmmaker Valerie Lemercier cast herself as the lead in this unofficial biopic “inspired by” the story of Celine Dion. It’s a fictionalized account co-written with Brigitte Buc that sticks to the real story in some parts, while also being a bit creepy and serving up a quasi-horror film sensation in others. You might ask, “How can the story of Celine Dion” have anything to do with horror?”, and well the answer is that Ms. Lemercier (a woman in her 50’s), plays the fictionally named Aline Dieu at ALL ages (thanks to some CGI). Seeing that face on the young girl peering up at her family on stage is as creepy and discomforting as any screen image we will see this year.

It’s no accident that Lemercier’s character is named Dieu, which is French for God. She clearly worships the real Ms. Dion, and this is intended as a loving tribute to the singer. Aline Dieu is the 14th child born into a French-Canadian family. Many of the family members perform as a singing act … think The Osmonds or the Cowsills, and Aline is still young when her amazing vocal talent is discovered and becomes a featured part of the performances. Her headstrong mother, Sylvette Dieu (played by Danielle Fichaud), is very protective of her youngest child and is involved as the family contacts a well-known talent manager named Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel).

Aline becomes a teenage singing sensation, and of course, later becomes an international icon, especially after singing the TITANIC (1997) song, “My Heart Will Go On”. The film tracks the meteoric rise of her career, but as in real life, much of the focus is on the relationship between Aline and Guy-Claude (obviously the stand-in for Rene Angelil). They first met when she was 12, and despite the 26-year age gap, a love developed that resulted in marriage years later (when she was of legal age). Aline’s mother’s reaction to this relationship was disgust – in a funny kind of way. She felt her princess deserved better than “an old prune”. We also learn of Aline’s vocal cord scare, the couple’s initial struggles to have kids, and how he focused on the business side to protect her … a cause he remained devoted to because of his heart condition. A big part of this was the infamous Las Vegas residency, which has since been copied by many artists.

Despite the success and brilliant artistry, there is a certain sadness to a woman who seemed quite isolated from everything but her family. This point is driven home when she admits to never have seen the city where she’s been performing, and the fact that she seems to have no friends outside of her makeup artist Fred (Jean-Noel Broute). Ms. Lemercier does a fine job capturing the various looks and style over the years, and her movements on stage are spot on. She lip-syncs to the familiar songs … sung not by Celine, but rather Victoria Sio. The movie will likely work best for fans of Celine Dion, while others may not recover from the Act I creep factor.

Opening in theaters on April 8, 2022

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NITRAM (2022)

April 1, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. “What made him do it?” That’s the question we always ask after a mass shooting. Rarely does any answer make much sense. Director Justin Kurzel and his TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG (2019) screenwriter Shaun Grant join forces in collaboration again for a story based on the man responsible for the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania. It was the worst lone gunman mass shooting in Australian history with 35 killed and 23 injured. The filmmakers tread lightly here and never mention the shooter’s name, though the film’s title is a backwards hint. Their film is an attempt to answer that question we always ask.

Opening with archival news footage from 1979 in a burn unit, where a young boy has been injured by fireworks happily proclaims he will continue the fun that fireworks bring. We then flash-forward to a young man (presumably the same) setting off fireworks in his parents’ backyard as the neighbor yells at him to stop. His weathered mother (two-time Oscar nominated Judy Davis) puffs on a cigarette while looking on with a feeling of resignation. The young man is Nitram (though his parents never call him by name) and is played by Caleb Landry Jones, in his most off-kilter and disturbing role yet. His mom is fed up with him, though she attempts to get him on track, while his father (Anthony LaPaglia) is more reserved and forgiving of the boy they have raised – one who not only has no direction in life, but has social and likely mental issues.

Nitram’s long, stringy hair constantly provides cover for eyes that rarely look up. His world transforms one day when he asks a local recluse if he can mow her yard. Helen (played by Essie Davis, who is married to director Kurzel, and was fantastic in THE BABADOOK) takes a liking to him, and the two loners form an unconventional relationship where the wealthy woman buys him gifts, and offers him a home and what may be his first ever friend. Of course, this causes much consternation for his parents, as they carry an undefined concern about their son’s stability.

A dramatic event causes yet another shift in the young man’s life, and it allows the further exploration of how the world can become unbearable for such a person. A separate event results in an unwelcome change for dad, and it’s an event that certainly plays a part in putting Nitram on the deadly path. Nitram as a misfit is also on display through his interactions with a local surfer, and it’s at this point where the film shifts into commentary on gun control laws and the ease with which restrictions can be evaded. It’s a strange tonal shift, but for a mass murder movie that doesn’t show murders, we can at least understand the approach.

The four main actors are consummate professionals and always bring realism and interest to their roles. Here, Caleb Landry Jones delivers a performance that is both terrifying and empathetic. He of course appeared in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), and I’ve been following his career since I first noticed him as one of the bike-riding boys near the end of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007). While the film attempts to answer the original question, “What made him to it?”, perhaps many tragic scenarios could be avoided if we could sooner answer, “What’s wrong with you?” Depression, mental illness, gun control, and parental frustration are all prominent here. Filmmaker Kurzel ends the film with some startling details and statistics on Australia’s National Firearms Agreement.

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YOU WON’T BE ALONE (2022)

April 1, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Perhaps you are a normal movie lover and have never wondered what it might be like if director Terrence Malick delved into the horror genre. Well, the first feature film from writer-director Goran Stolevski gives every indication that he has spent entirely too much time with such thoughts. This arthouse folk horror film will likely frustrate many with its unconventional approach, odd narrative, and spiritual narration that hardly contributes to the characters in the story.

Opening in a remote mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, we witness a ‘Wolf-eatress” witch named ‘Old Maid Maria’ (Anamarie Marinca; 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, 2007) visiting a mother (Kamka Tocinovski) and her newborn baby. It turns out Maria has a taste for newborn blood, but the mother negotiates a deal which would allow her to raise her daughter Nevena until Maria takes her in teen years. The child is then hidden away in a cave, isolated for years and mostly feral when Maria returns. Teenage Nevena (Sara Klimoska) knows nothing of the outside world and sets out on her journey of life lessons, guided by Maria, a witch who may or may not have her best interests at heart.

Shape-shifting, or assuming the form of their victims is a trait that Maria passes along to her protégé. This process is quick and brutal, and we see it played out along the way as Nevena takes over a local mother (Noomi Rapace), so as to get a taste of normalcy, a wolf (just because?), a man (Carlota Cota) so as to absorb power and experience sex, and a young woman (Alice Englert) in order to give birth to a child. This shape-shifting is referred in the movie as “dressed in corpse”, which is a spot-on description. The Wolf-eatress follows closely, but does give her new daughter the space to explore humans, though Maria does not share the appeal.

There are some excellent scenes in the film, but it leaves the impression of trying too hard to come across as Malick doing horror. Still, with some similarities to Robert Eggers’ horror gem, THE WITCH (2015), there is enough atmosphere of terror to keep us engaged and working through the often-confounding narration. As a bonus, it leaves us with the perfect final line, “And yet …”

Opening in theaters on April 1, 2022

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HUDA’S SALON (2022)

March 3, 2022

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

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