Where Do We Go Now (2011)

2:43 PM

Nadine Labaki in Where Do We Go Now? 

If 8½, The Battle of Algiers and My Big Fat Greek Wedding fused into one film, it might become Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?. The focus of Labaki's second feature film is on a small unnamed Lebanese village where Muslim and Christian women and men live in harmony with one another while the country still experiences echoes of the civil war. Learning of the various violent conflicts rampant in their country between Muslims and Christians, the women of the village band together, in a refusal to let the sickness of hatred seep into their happy town. Labaki often verges into screwball territory as the women disable the village television, bring in exotic dancers as a distraction, and even feed the unknowing men potent pot brownies to keep everyone and everything on groovy terms. These comedic endeavours are broken up by devastating loss, prejudiced outbursts of violence and an infuriating stubbornness to cooperate on behalf of the village's men folk. 

When we hear the words "civil war", we may not necessarily be reminded of any real and present pain. If anything, our North American view of civil war comes to us in Spielberg bursts of Daniel Day flawlessness, and not in any recent reminders of first-hand grief. But where it's not likely we'll see a light-hearted American Civil War film playing on the Greek melodramas, a film like Where Do We Go Now? offers an injection of comedy and humanity in the face of unwarranted aggression. If only the subject matter had been approached more delicately. 

Where Do We Go Now? is supposedly a story about civil unrest and the impact of civil conflict on the innocents of Lebanon, but really it's a story about women. Women who are the peacekeepers, and men who are the instigators of violence. Frequently, the tragedy of the circumstances are diluted as the focus is one again pulled back to the wily enterprises of the village's women to thwart any attempts at Muslim/Christian conflict from the village's men. The premise is amusing but tiring in its repetition. With such a strong emphasis on the women of the village, the representation of this united group as almost superficial is disappointing. Gossipy and scheming, with each character only very briefly visited, a truly in-depth understanding of the mechanics of these characters is supplementary to the comedic attempts at keeping the men in check. Once again, the men are inadvertently the focus. But even Labaki's efforts to seamlessly flit between these moments of light-hearted comedy and ones of desperation although admirable, are ultimately unsatisfying. Brief musical interludes and love interests never revisited, but followed by heart wrenching pleas for peace for the village are frustratingly incoherent while tragic moments are overwhelmed by ones of slapstick. 

Naive suggestions and outlandish premises for peaceful resolutions suffocate what could have been a wonderful film. If only Labaki had focused wholly on a few characters and story lines rather than loosely visiting multiple ones, this might have been a succinct and affecting film. But, with characters and situations briefly visited and then forgotten, Where Do We Go Now? is left as a decidedly surface venture rather than the in-depth one Labaki appears to have been striving for. 

My rating: 6 cats out of 10

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