Jul. 11, 2012 - Issue #873: The Big Cover-Up
Where Do We Go Now?
Directed by Nadine Labaki
'You must ignore what goes on elsewhere," an imam instructs his congregation sagely. We're in an isolated village in some arid country—Lebanon, presumably—where Muslims and Christians live side by side. The Imam's plea for xenophobia springs from a genuine desire for peace: outside of here sectarian violence is tearing the world apart, so why not quarantine ourselves from such unholy corruption? But it's either too late to stop the bad influence or that badness is burned too deep into human nature to suppress. Or at least it seems burned into the nature of men. The village women know better. They're tired of squabbles, tired of needless suffering and death, tired of mourning, and they're going to do something about it.
Where Do We Go Now?, director, co-scenarist and star Nadine Labaki's follow-up to her 2007 debut feature Caramel, is a contemporary Middle Eastern spin on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, an uneasy but intermittently appealing hybrid of farce, allegorical drama and musical. There's hi-jinx aplenty, culminating in the women feeding the unknowing men hash cakes and bringing in Russian prostitutes in to belly dance. There's also a smattering of scenes in which fantasy hijacks the narrative and a pair of comely young lovers (one of whom is the very charismatic Labaki) sing to each other of secret longings. And there are intrusions of brutal realities involving the unexploded ordinance that surrounds the village, resulting in small tragedies that play out to the accompaniment of weepy strings.
The net result is, unsurprisingly, a little muddled. Much of the humour is a little too broad, though the actors charged with conveying it are hard not to like. The commentary on tit-for-tat warfare is straightforward enough, but that's a bit of a problem itself: the lack of specificity might be a deliberate tactic for attaining that precarious thing we sometimes call universality, but it also makes the film that much more generalized, less consequential, and soft around the edges. Still, it has its moments of wit, its heart is unmistakably large, its women possess a higher form of sass, and it's endowed with much visual flair.
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