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Where Do We Go Now?

May 19, 2012
Where Do We Go Now?

Ecumenism is hard work. It’s difficult enough here in the United States, where we’re just barely past real acceptance of Catholics, we’ve got a ways to go on Jews and Muslims, and there are serious discussions in the Republican base about whether or not Mormons are “real Christians”. But it’s even harder in Lebanon, where sectarian violence is the all too common result of religious frictions. Nadine Labaki’s film, Where Do We Go Now? explores the efforts in one small village to keep a powderkeg from going up.

The village in question has the saving grace of being relatively isolated, not only by its geography but by the literal minefields left behind after a recent war that claimed too many young villagers’ lives. Almost every woman in town has someone to mourn, and they are all — Christian and Muslim alike — determined to keep the tensions from the outside world at bay, if that means taking down radios, sabotaging the town’s one television, or burning newspapers to keep word of violence and strife away.

They’re helped in this by the priest (Samir Awad) and imam (Ziad Abou Absi), who beg their congregations not to be influenced by what goes on elsewhere. These two communities have lived side-by-side for a long time, though not closely enough that furtive glances between Christian café owner Amale (Labaki) and Muslim workman Rabih (Julian Farhat) would not make waves.

But even without undue influence, things have a way of falling apart. Something happens, and someone is quick to seek retribution against Them. The women’s efforts grow more outlandish, picking noisy squabbles, faking miracles, and even trying to hire a group of Ukranian dancers in the hopes that they will distract the men.

Labaki has assembled a wonderful cast of women who balance their concern with determination, and even a sort of what-else-can-we-do cheer. Amale, the mayor’s wife, Yvonne (Yvonne Maalouf), and villagers Saydeh, Afaf, and Fatmeh (Antoinette Noufily, Layla Hakim, and Anjo Rihane) all perform notably well, but the owner of the general store, Takla (Claude Baz Moussawbaa) rises above the rest with a heartfelt, heartbreaking dramatic turn that underscores the anguish behind these women’s struggle.

Beyond that, Labaki has a wonderful style. Away from a handful of darker scenes she keeps the tone light, preventing the film from sinking into a morose, depressing pit. She even works in some musical numbers, like the gently choreographed take on the women’s funereal procession that leads us in. And it’s a shame that, politics being what they are, Labaki’s husband Khaled Mouzanar had no real shot at the Academy Award for best song for “Hashishet Albi”, which the women sing as they put one of their plans into action.

Given that the dominant cultures surrounding these sorts of conflicts — and here, too, I should add — are so relentlessly patriarchal it’s nice to hear a woman’s voice in the conversation. Labaki articulates her contribution well, and is wise not to overstate it; even if everyone woke up deciding to get along and make the best of it, there are no easy answers for how to deal with the past, and for where we go next.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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