Following on from Nadine Labaki’s critically-acclaimed directorial début Caramel, the young, talented film maker once again delves into the lives of Lebanese women, and once again creates a film that is as rich in poignancy as it is in affability, in the upcoming drama Where Do We Go Now?
Labaki herself stars in the film as Amale, one of many women desperately attempting to mediate between a growing feud between the Muslims and Christians in a small village in Lebanon. In a village where everybody knows everybody else residents have comfortably been living side by side for centuries despite the clash of religious beliefs separating them. Yet the country is in turmoil following the futile war between religious zealots, and the wives are desperate to steer their husbands and sons away from any potential violence.
Despite successfully hiding any national news coverage of the feud, throwing away newspapers and sabotaging the television signal – an accidental mishap by one of the village youths in tearing down the church’s cross sparks a conflict as the incident is blamed on the Muslim community, and suddenly they start throwing pot shots at one another, as the Christians seek revenge by sending a group of farm animals into the local Mosque. The women are at breaking point, and attempt a host of stunts to reunite the villagers before it all gets out of hand and blood is spilled. Meanwhile a Romeo and Juliet-esque romance is developing between Amale and Rabih (Julian Farhat), as the pair fall for one another despite being on opposite sides of the village…
Although unique in many respects, Where Do We Go Now? does bear similarities to the recently released The Source – a film also set in a small village in the Middle East, with a defining similarity in the portrayal of women in both films. Once again they are certainly the more powerful sex within the community, and they have both their sons and husbands completely under their thumbs. Such a representation of women is intriguing as Labaki is almost offering a backlash to the traditionalist sexism that takes place in certain parts of the world, tipping the power balance in the opposite direction and challenging the West’s perception of them as being downtrodden and second-class.
Where Labaki’s feature fully excels however, is within its ability to find a compatible middle ground between comedy and tragedy. This is a very charming and touching film, yet there are a host of quite harsh scenes littered around, making for rather uncomfortable viewing. Labaki cleverly manages to make the conflicting themes complement one another, as combining socio-politics and humour can carry the danger of them both devaluing the other, yet this isn’t the case at all here.
A variety of emotions are triggered upon watching this picture, as it bears so many separate genres rolled up into one. We have a comedy, a romance, a political drama, a tragedy, a musical, and at one point the film even becomes a stoner-movie. There is one brilliantly amusing section to the film when the Lebanese women pay for a group of scantily clad Eastern European strippers to come and stay at the village for a while, staging a broken down tour bus. Desperate times call for desperate measures as the wives attempt to unite their husbands through the universal notion of sexual fantasy, and for these men, a voyage into the unknown. This sub-plot features the majority of the more humorous scenes as the men frantically attempt to impress their new visitors.
Another key aspect in making this film charming and endearing is the use of songs, as the film takes on the guise of a musical, featuring a handful of original and relevant numbers sung by the characters – composed by Khaled Mouzanar. The music offers a surrealistic aspect to a film that is otherwise naturalistic, enhancing the cinematic romanticism of this picture, taking the edge off the religious and political undertones. The songs also feel like a tipping of the hat to both Arabic and Bollywood cinema of old where music is often implemented throughout. There is one scene between Amale and Rabih where they sing to one another, in a sequence that feels as though it has been taken straight out of a film from 1950s Hollywood.
Despite the slow start to Where Do We Go Now?, it is certainly worth bearing with, as what transpires is a delightful film that does little to offend. Above anything else, the greatest and arguably most important thing to take away from this movie is the message portraying the futility of war, and despite being somewhat of an obvious statement, it’s one that is well depicted and earnest in its conviction.