Nadine Labaki – “Where do We Go Now?” (2011)

ATTENTION: Super-spoiler trailer!!

Life in this peaceful Lebanese environment seems bucolic. The first images depict a close-knitted community that has managed to overcome religious differences and gathers at night to watch TV or to have some tea at the local café. But peace soon breaks down. The lack of geographical or chronological references leaves the spectator with a taste of essentialism as we can imagine this happening in the 80s or the 90s, or yesterday. Nevertheless, the film never attempts at exposing a realist view; rather, it is an effort at mocking the entrenched deadly past of whichever Lebanese town. Sometimes, such effort is overstressed and becomes strident. Despite the intention of overcoming the recent past, the movie returns to the same topics and the same clichés.

The spectator is then introduced to three different story levels. The first narrative line is the very plausible love story between the owner of the only bar of this tiny village and the worker who is restoring the building. It happens that she is Christian and he is Muslim, but apparently there is no impediment for their imagined dances and their half hidden gazes. The second story line is the increasing tension among men of the village that rapidly escalates when the communal violence in the rest of Lebanon spreads throughout the country. This distress was apparently dormant during the first minutes of the film but it acquires a lively description through sacrilegious jokes and serious threats. And the third story line, which is turned into the central topic of the movie, is the quest of the women of the village to maintain peace at home. They design a miraculous solution on the verge of surrealism.

The gender divide of this movie is not only obvious; it is the central theme of the story. While men are described as irrational beasts whose murderous readiness can only be appeased with “music”, women are depicted as mothers and sisters always caring and always ready to cry. The civil war is not within their feminized world, nut they rebel against their apparent fate of victims taking control of their husbands’ and sons’ blood thirst. Their actual goal is not to end the war but to protect their families. Thus, women are the real characters of this movie that turns victims into courageous protectors and original seekers of alternatives.

Despite all, the context is civil war and death, but violence appears at face value with sticks and guns. There is not time to detail the rancor and the hatred of decades-long family grievances, and the characters seem to go frenzy because they call each other names. Hence, the depth of the conflict is nowhere in this movie because that it not its purpose. The main story line is women’s hilarious ideas about how to stop the fight. In addition, violence is not religious as the sheikh and the priest concur with their female parishioners and go far beyond what is usually considered as proper of men of religion. In fact, religion turns out to be the solution to the social turbulences when the ultimate certainty is finally shaken. The unexpected ending ties up these 110 minutes of delirious escapism in a tremendous turn of events that will chain the spectators to their chairs.

The several music sketches introduced along the movie makes this story more enjoyable. It plays with the variable tension, increasing love , decreasing violence, increasing humor, decreasing life. The photography is marvelous and the scenery is carefully selected. It is wonderfully manufactured, with a very conscious sense of rhythm, and brilliant interpretations.

In a nutshell, “Where do we go now?” is a good movie on a thorny topic with uncomplicated narrative solutions.

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