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Where Do We Go Now?

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating

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Where Do We Go Now?

There's a curious feeling you sometimes get at the movies. It's not a good feeling. It's that moment when a movie that seems to have everything going for it - a unique setting, interesting characters and potential intellectual heft – starts to turn sour. Slowly you begin to recognize the smell, a forced laugh here, a treacly bit of speechifying there, a far-fetched plot point there – finally it is undeniable, what had been enjoyable just 40 minutes ago has now become a chore. This is, in some ways, more difficult to endure than a movie that is just bad from the beginning.

Alas, this is what awaits you should you check out Nadine Labaki's (Caramel) Where Do We Go Now?. And it kills me to say so. What the world needs now is a good film that details just how hashish and blonde exotic dancers are the true road map to sectarian peace in Lebanon, but it looks like we'll have to wait for the next one.

Where Do We Go Now? starts out fabulously, a phalanx of black-clad women approach the camera, busting out elaborate, syncopated dance moves down a dusty, rocky path toward side-by-side cemeteries. At the end, the group splits – women with covered heads turn one way, those wearing crosses go the other. Buried are men of all ages, victims, we're to believe, of violence.

These are the mourning Muslim and Christian women of an unnamed (and slightly fanciful) village, where the religious tension of “elsewhere” is, at least right now, ignored in favor of local town boosterism. The Muslims and Christians don't exactly love one another, but they get along the way good grouchy neighbors ought to.

The village is accessible only by one narrow, precarious pass surrounded by barbed wire and mines. If that's not remote enough for ya, it doesn't even get television reception until the some intrepid kids (and the oafish mayor) climb a hill to plant a satellite dish. With a TV borrowed from the Mayor's wife (a wise-yet-exhausted looking woman, somewhat resembling Madeleine Albright) and folding chairs taken from the Church, the village has their first opportunity to watch the tube. Unfortunately, it brings news of more struggles between the two groups “outside.”

What follows is the women elders (plus a few youngsters, and the imam and priest) doing anything and everything they can to keep their local menfolk from breaking out into deadly fighting.

What could, and should, be a noble film that emboldens women of unstable regions turns, instead, to farce. This wouldn't be such a problem if the farce was well-done, but its pacing is spotty and the line between acceptable “magic realism” and simply silly storytelling is soon crossed. Once the van full of strippers with the hearts of gold show up, it's quite impossible to know how to read this film.

There isn't really a main character (other than the town, with its muezzin calls and church bells mere feet from one another) but the camera sure loves the young, slightly Amy Winehouse-looking Christian cafe worker Amale. (I later learned this was actually the director Labaki.) She and fix-it man Rabih are clearly in love with one another but, alas, he is from the other side of the religious divide. Where Do We Go Now? wins some points, in a sad way, by never being Pollyanna enough to suggest that these two could ever marry and be happy. The goal is merely to keep everyone from killing each other.

The third act twist comes when the women must take radical, direction action. It's not quite “Lysistrata Goes Lebanon,” but when the men awaken from a night of hashish cakes (don't ask) the Christians will find their wives in hijabs and the Muslims find their wives praying to Mary. It's a Twilight Zone ending, sure, and despite the rest of the movie not quite being fantastical enough, it basically gets the job done. I can't lie to you: I feel guilty for not liking this movie more. I feel like supporting it would be doing a good deed. Its philosophy is fundamentally secular, something unheard of for a film from the Middle East (note: it does have French backing.) Plus, there are two different fantasy musical numbers! Still, style is style, and too much of Where Do We Go Now? is histrionic and tone deaf.

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  6. Review: Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now

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