Where Do We Go Now? – A Scattered and Soulful Satire

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Artistophanes, a comic playwright of Ancient Greece, in 411 BC wrote a comic play named ‘Lysistrata’. It asks how women can ever get their men from killing each other? The play hilariously portrays how ‘Lysistrata’ with the help of other Greek women ends up the Peloponnesian War. The women of Greece withhold sexual favors from their lovers and husbands, forcing the men to negotiate peace. It is questionable whether Lysistrata’s idea to solve the war is feasible or not in today’s reality, but still after thousands of years, women are still perplexed by the all-consuming sectarian clashes. Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labaki’s bittersweet comedy “Where Do We Go Now” (2011) focuses on such bewildered women, who have lost their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons to religious-spurred violence.

The film begins in a poetic fashion as a group of black-clad Christian and Muslim women walking hand-in-hand in rhythm, singing with their soulful voice. Their isolated village is situated in Lebanese country side, where the cemetery dwellers and landmines outnumber the living population. The community of Christians and Muslims seems to live in peace for now, side by side, both carrying the inner wounds of having lost loved ones to previous conflicts. Even a slight misunderstanding could result in a bloody clash. But, the women of the village, who stay united, try to keep their men in control by alternatively using obedience, anger, and love.

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The women of both religious beliefs often convene in the local cafe run by Amale (Nadine Labaki). The village has a weak bridge to connect them with an outside world. So, only a couple of teenagers sneak out at night in their motor bike to get supplies for the villagers. In the evening, the villagers all gather up to watch the town’s single TV. One night, a news report talks about religious clashes in some nearby village. The women start to loudly fight with each other to drown out the TV’s audio.

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It’s not just the village women; even the priest and imam couldn’t stop the men from having murderous thoughts. The women believe that a clash could initiate in their village too, so they resort to many ideas: the mayor’s wife (Yvonne Malouf), riotously pretends to be possessed by the spirit of the Virgin Mary and asks the men to stay in harmony; they hire a troupe of Ukrainian exotic dancers; and try dosing the male populace with hashish-mixed cookies.

Director and actress Labaki’s debut feature “Caramel” captivatingly focused on the lives of five contemporary women in Beirut. But, she didn’t gain as much success with “Where Do We Go Now” mainly because of her difficulty in blending the tones. Except for the Muslim handyman and Amale’s lover all men in the film is portrayed as drooling, vengeful, amusing, idiotic types. But, that’s not a big problem we are somehow totally invested with women’s grief and joy. However, Labaki lacks the perfect grace to jump between the genres like musical, comedy and tragedy. The comic parts, which showcase the village ladies in conspiratorial mood, are all hilarious, but the tragedy parts either come as overly sentimental or unaffecting.

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That’s pity because Labaki weaves lot of daring ideas, especially in the final scene, when the men carrying a coffin ask with a bewildered look, “Where do we go now?” The ending was left open to the viewers questioning them: what does religion get you? Director Labaki is also open-minded about the religious faith. The women are devoutly religious but, unlike their men, they also accept the fact that being Christians and Muslims doesn’t provide an edge over the others.

Although “Where Do We Go Now” (110 minutes) is uneven and possesses lot of histrionics, it is made with good intentions. It earnestly tries to get across the message of lasting peace with little music, humor, and melodrama.

 

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