1 million movie, or 42 million movie?
‘It’s easy. $42 million. That was the budget of The Mountain Between Us (Abu-Assad’s 2017 romantic plane crash survival drama, red.† And now to 1 million, yes. Bee Huda’s Salon I suddenly had to do five or six things at once on the set. Making my own food, arranging locations, making sure everyone got paid, carrying stuff. That’s good for me too, not to get too used to luxury. Luxury is really nice, though. With film, the money is also in the people you can hire. Truly experienced technicians, for example, can make your life as a director easier. But they are scarce and very well paid. Huda’s Salon I played during the corona time. Everything stopped in Hollywood, I wanted to do something small anyway.’
To warn or not to warn against spoilers?
‘No, I don’t need to warn about spoilers. I prefer not to read anything about a movie before going to it. Then I read reviews and stuff. What can I tell people in advance about Huda’s Salon† It’s exciting, you won’t regret it. Oh, they should know that the film opens with a Palestinian woman being sedated as she goes to the hairdresser’s and unconsciously photographed naked, only to be blackmailed by the Israeli secret service: Work for us, or we’ll send the pictures to your family.
‘That actually happened to several women. The first time I heard about it was about twenty years ago, when one of the victims committed suicide and left a letter. That story was picked up and led to a number of hair salons closing. But it still happens, I heard two years ago. So I decided to make this movie. They consciously choose the women: they come from a layer of the population where a nude photo is disgraceful. They already know in advance that they cannot go to their family. It’s very sophisticated. I thought we should empower those women by talking about it in Palestinian society.’
Delft or Nazareth?
‘Nazareth. Yes, I had to think for a moment. Look, every city is an experience. And Delft was also important to me. I learned so much there, much more than just the technical knowledge for the aircraft engineering study I did. I still keep in touch with friends from then. Unbelievable right? And the women… I lost my virginity in Delft. To a bar, drunk for the first time, trying pick up tricks: all there. In the eighties, as a 19-year-old from Nazareth, I pretty much ended up among the elite of the Netherlands. That time really shaped me intellectually. Going out all night and discussing politics or the environment. That was fun. But Nazareth… Nazareth was like life and death, a series of intense experiences. The loss of my father, the loss of several people I loved. Through sickness, through war. It felt like you could die at any moment. And if you experience that in your youth, you start to look at life differently. My mother still lives in our old house, she is now 84. It’s nice to be back there.’
Wim T. Schippers or Albert Camus?
‘Wim T. Schippers, of course. I care a lot about Albert Camus, you know. He got me thinking: really a philosopher, a great man. The way he used the language is also very beautiful. But Schippers… He is, how to say, a naughty boy. People who never want to grow up and keep challenging themselves, that’s what I like. Schippers turned everything upside down. Nowadays you can find everything on YouTube. So a year ago I thought, you know what, I’m going again Ronflonflon listen. How is it possible, I thought again. How could anyone make this? Total anarchy. Just at Hilversum 3!’
Dutch functional nude, or Palestinian functional nude?
†Huda’s Salon is about contradictions, in this film the nudity is something disgusting. That nude scene gave me a lot of headaches in Palestine, but I still prefer this nudity to the Dutch one. Nude has almost no effect anymore in the Netherlands. Then with Phil Bloom, the first naked woman on Dutch television in 1967, that is. The House of Representatives debated it, right? It was shocking. I have now also done something similar in Palestine, without really wanting to. The intention was that a censored version would be shown there, but the film was stolen from a computer server before the theatrical release and placed on some internet sites with the nude images in it, so that the entire Arab world could watch. It became a huge scandal in Palestine.
“I can’t prove who the thief was, but it must have been a professional organization. It did shake up society, so it may have made sense: that people also talk about the subject of the film. But the prize for the actresses out Huda’s Salon is high: they are now in hiding. The Palestinian Ministry of Culture has also officially spoken out against the film. Although I also speak to authorities who actually like the film, but can’t say so publicly because of the anger on the street. I feel responsible for the actresses. It’s different for me, I’m very independent. Although I also feel stabbed in the back.’
Manal Awad or Kate Winslet?
‘Difficult. Yes, Manal Awad. Great actress. She plays the hairdresser Huda. She is emotionally naked in the film, not physically naked. But she too is now in hiding, just like Maisa Abd Elhadi. Winslet is great too. But: a star. And stars also become a kind of product. A star has a team of six or seven people who advise, read along and participate in the discussion. You don’t realize that right away, but actually you’re not directing one actor, but an entire team. I kind of felt that when we worked together for The Mountain Between Us† Though Kate is brave enough to also fuck it to say: I do what I want.’
The Oscar nomination for Paradise Now (2005), or the Oscar nomination for Omar (2013)?
†Paradise Now† Very easy. The first time is always the best. The second time it feels like you’re playing a part: then you already know what’s going to happen. And you also know how small the chance of the Oscar is. It’s like an election: you’re campaigning. And before the award ceremony you already know which campaign is the best: it will win, the film with the best campaign. Bee Omar was that Paolo Sorrentino with la grande bellezza† Very good film, but also a very good campaign, with a lot of money. In Hollywood, they know exactly how to manipulate Academy voters. That is also seen as something legitimate: it is part of it. Sometimes they spend 10 million dollars, we didn’t have that money with us Omar† In the year of Paradise Now won Tsotsia by Gavin Hood. Sweetheart of a man, but I think our film should have won then. Tsotsia had been bought by Harvey Weinstein. Believe me, that campaign was so strong.’
1 million movie, or 42 million movie? (2)
‘It is true that I am now named as the director of The Good Spy† This is stated on IMDB (the international film website, red.), although I don’t quite understand why it’s already there. I can’t say anything about it yet. It’s uncertain, as always. In terms of budget, it would move again to that of The Mountain Between Us† A movie like this needs an actor with a name before financing can be arranged. That’s not easy. Before this I worked in Hollywood for three years on a film that Infidel was called. Big movie, for big parties: Sony Pictures, Tristar. Two writers were put on it twice, but the script just didn’t get to a level where I could say: yes, I want to make this into a film. The studio thought so too. That’s painful, after three years of work. But then, do you have to pay another two or three hundred thousand for the third time to two other writers?’
90 minutes or 120 minutes?
’90. I like that rhythm: three acts of thirty minutes. Moral issues need to be presented swiftly, I think. I also prefer to watch movies of that length. Compare it to eating: lots of fries, a large piece of meat on the side, that’s tasty, but you get full while eating. If you eat gastronomically in a restaurant, you are also full, but you still want more. That’s how a film should feel: that you want more after the end.’
CV Hany Abu-Assad, director
1961 Born in Nazareth
1980 Comes to the Netherlands to study aircraft engineering
1991 Directorial debut, documentary To Whom It May Concern
1998 Documentary Nazareth 2000
1998 First feature film, The 14th chicken (screenplay Arnon Grunberg)
2002 Documentary Ford Transit (caused a riot, when it was revealed that Abu-Assad had some scenes played)
2002 Rana’s Wedding
2006 Golden Calf, Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for Paradise Now
2012 The Courierwith Mickey Rourke
2013 Oscar nomination and jury prize in Cannes for Omar
2015 The Idol
2017 The Mountain Between Uswith Kate Winslet and Idris Elba
2021 Huda’s Salon