For those who may not know, “Where Do We Go Now?” beat two well received movies starring George Clooney (yes Clooney!) to win the people’s choice award at the Toronto film festival. As a Lebanese, I feel proud. Nadine Labaki’s previous movie “Caramel” was a huge success, but never got to compete on an international level. “Where Do We Go Now?” is easy to admire, a bit more difficult to love. That’s because the film, like its central character (played by Labaki herself) keeps its emotions in check so much of the time. It should be no shock though that the film is intelligent, and well made, considering so many talented people were involved in it. What’s somewhat surprising is how engaging a story about a group of Muslims and Christians living together in a small village can be. We are told that the village is cut off from the rest of the outside world due to a broken bridge. When we first meet Labaki’s character, we learn that she’s a Christian mother who pines for a Muslim man. You see, and unlike the women in this small village, who march together to mourn their loved ones, the men are easily influenced by the war going on outside, which will eventually develop into religious tensions. The women bond together, as they should, to keep the peace, while men work against it. They cut the wires to the TV and the radio to block out the news, and even hire a band of Ukrainian showgirls to entertain their men, in a funny and clever way. Labaki treats her material in a tragi-comedy style, which is always refreshing in my opinion. You might be laughing one minute, then crying the next.
“Where Do We Go Now?” deals with a community’s search for answers in a country that offers only new and challenging questions. I know that, because I’ve been raised in that country, and I could easily relate to every character in the movie. And because every character is so direct and believable, their dilemmas seem concrete; it’s the solutions that are hazy and hard to define, hence the title “Where Do We Go Now?”. My only complaint is that I found it difficult to care about the musical interludes. They are very well crafted, but I don’t think they belong in this movie.
But if “Where Do We Go Now?” is less than perfect, it’s still a very good movie that covers a lot of ground with an observant eye, and provides great parts to all the actors involved in it. And as we come to the end of a summer brimming with mindless escapism, it’s bracing to encounter a film that encourages us to feel and think at the same time. “Where Do We Go Now?” does exactly that. It also adds to my ever growing admiration for Nadine Labaki and provides a pleasant sense of discovery in seeing a Lebanese movie win an international award. Such a film deserves applause, support, and most of all an audience.
Categories: The Twenty-First Century