FAULT Film: Where Do We Go Now? review

Nadine Labaki’s latest directorial production, Where Do We Go Now?, applies a Lysistratan plotline to the contemporary issue of religious conflict in the Middle East. Like Aristophanes over 2000 years before her, Labaki gives a serious situation a comic makeover.  The audience simultaneously laughs and cries through the story of a group of women from a denominationally divided remote middle-eastern village, who hatch a series of elaborate plots to keep their menfolk from clashing in a bloody religious conflict.

The film is an intelligent and charming fusion of wit and tragedy. Part Broadway musical, part Bollywood (Labaki started out directing music videos), Where Do We Go Now? is a feast for the eyes and ears. The setting is picturesque: a dilapidated village where church and mosque sit symmetrically is nestled between tumbling dessert hills. In a particularly stunning opening sequence, grief-stricken women trudge along a barren path, clothed in black, in a poignant synchronised procession to visit the graves of their sons and husband killed in previous conflicts.

Against the backdrop of a nation where Muslims and Christians are in constant dispute peace in the un-named village is threatened when a newly acquired television set broadcasts news about conflicts happening nearby. Fiery and fearless, the women go to great lengths to prevent the information spreading. Their theatrical petulance muffles the news, drugged pastries and sweets convert hostility to laughter, the mayor’s wife’s fabricated correspondence with the Virgin Mary encourages harmony and, most notoriously, the hiring of a group of scantily clad Russian prostitutes keeps the men distracted.

The comedy verges on slapstick – gesticulated arguments, stray animals, broken furniture – and every moment is filled with lively local music, banter and bickering. The gaggle of women gossiping and plotting in Amal’s café echoes Sex and the City and the relationship between the beautiful Christian Amal, played by Labaki, and the Muslim Rabih, where she is torn between faith and feelings, is another nod to mainstream romance. But the light-hearted comedy is offset by the agonising drama of a mother who hides the dead body of her son Nassim to keep her other son from seeking revenge.

At points such as these, however, the shift away from harmless humour to genuine tragedy is too abrupt, confusing the viewer’s response: why was I laughing a second ago? The comedy becomes inappropriate to the issues Labaki clearly wants to tackle; ones that are particularly relevant to the present upsurge of religious violence.

Labaki has been criticised for what some have interpreted as a trite feminist tract on how primitive, testosterone-fuelled men are incapable of running an orderly society and how peace can only be obtained when level-headed women take the wheel. This is an over-simplified and naïve take on a film that explores much bigger issues. We are not being asked to condemn the male sex, but to be aware of similarities and differences between human beings, their relative importance, and how we act upon them.

In a remote dessert village packed with zealous personalities, Lebaki revisits a familiar theme in an original, humane and honest story. In the end Where Do We Go Now? succeeds in marrying the brutally real and the whimsical to allow us to dare to hope.


Review by Rebecca Unger