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.
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.
The characters are mostly archetypes (a junkie, a religious believer, a rude, entitled customer) outside of the main players, but it lends the film a classical sort of feeling while allowing an all female cast to do something rare in the suspense genre. Few filmmakers outside of Quentin Tarantino would allow characters like this to banter and interact as much as they do, but it lends the film on the whole a great deal of authenticity that makes it fly by at a tightly packed 80 minutes.