Peace tale gets lost
where do we go now?
(Club, Light House, 110 minutes)
Director: Nadine Labaki Stars: Nadine Labaki, Leyla Hakim, Claude Moussawbaa, Antoinette El-Noufaily
Lebanese actress and music video director Nadine Labaki impressed many with her sophisticated 2007 debut feature Caramel.
A kind of comical soap opera set in a Beirut beauty parlour, Caramel used a compelling mixture of empathy and humour to dramatise the sometimes marginalised plights of Lebanese woman. In ways her second film, Where Do We Go Now?, explores the same territory, but in a much blunter and more overtly satirical fashion.
Where Do We Go Now? takes place in an isolated middle-eastern village in an unnamed country with a recent history of sectarian tension and war. The twin poles of the village are the church and the mosque, which sit brooding at either end of a settlement that seems fairly evenly divided between the two. Despite the wider country's problems, the Christian and Muslim villagers have managed to coexist peacefully and respectfully for decades. But the arrival of a communal television set threatens to change all that.
When the TV is set up in the village square, Christians and Muslims gather happily in expectation of harmless entertainment. Instead, they can't agree on what to watch, and when they see news reports about religious violence elsewhere in the country between the two faiths, old suspicions and prejudices are raised. Thereafter, a series of pranks and accidents are interpreted as declarations of war.
When the door of the mosque is left open and the goats get in and start chowing down on the prayer mats, a Christian plot is suspected. Then a workman falls off his ladder and cracks the church's ancient wooden crucifix in half. He doesn't own up, and the Muslims get the blame.
Icons are smashed, tempers flare, and soon the men seem on the point of open conflict.
Watching all of this sadly from the sidelines are the wise and jaded womenfolk. Nadine Labaki plays Amale, a Christian widow who runs the village café.
She lost her husband to war, and isn't about to let the village descend into pointless violence, so she joins forces with the mayor's doughty spouse Yvonne (Yvonne Maalouf) to divert the men from their bloodlust.
Their diversionary tactics are baroque: they use a statue of the Virgin Mary to fake a miracle, hide all the guns and even ferry in a busload of Ukrainian strippers to put on a show. But when a local boy is killed by a sniper, they must outdo themselves to keep the peace.
Labaki's film is nothing if not ambitious. Her wild plot combines not just comedy and tragedy but even throws in a couple of musical numbers for good measure. There are some nice comic touches, but the film jumps about so wildly in terms of tone that the centre simply cannot hold, and despite its good intentions an incoherent drama becomes something rather less than the sum of its parts.
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