An ensemble film about women made hostages in a supposedly safe environment more by circumstance than a clear cut villain, Dégradé, the debut feature from filmmaker brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser, manages a lot of tension from what’s essentially a single setting drama. The drama occurring inside the shop before the bullets start flying outside is just as engaging as when real danger arrives.
It’s a rather typical afternoon at a beauty salon in Gaza. The Russian owner (Victoria Balitska) and her fellow stylists are overworked. The customers are growing impatient, and one is downright difficult. Outside, the angered boyfriend of one of the hairdressers sits with a machine gun in his lap, smoking a cigarette, with his illegal pet lion pacing and keeping watch. But the creepy man and his pet might be more dangerous than the women expect, drawing the attention of Hamas forces that want the lion for their own, leading a violent skirmish to the doorsteps of the salon, trapping the women inside.
The use of the one setting creates an enclosure of tense, riveting drama, while handheld cinematography leaves the action edgy and breathless. By creating a uniquely female space, however, in which the women’s conversation on coifs, eyebrows, and boyfriends expands into a larger debate on their collective subjugation, Dégradé zooms in on one corner of the Gaza strip that doesn’t make the headlines, but is every bit as vital and fascinating.