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.
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.
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.
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.