Where Do We Go Now? Film Review (Lebanon)

Directed by Nadine Labaki; 2011

Where Do We Go Now? opens on an unremarkable dirt road. A group of women hugs the frame tightly. They are of all shapes and sizes — young and old, supermodel beautiful and commoner modest — and upon first glance, their only shared quality is that they are all clad in black. Director Nadine Labaki slowly begins to focus on each woman, in succession, and it becomes apparent that the most subtle difference – the degree to which each woman is veiled – is the real point of focus. Some have their hair completely covered while others are not covered at all; yet all are approaching the camera in mutual accord. Their facial expressions are severe, but their movements are choreographed in a tragically unaware fashion, like a pop routine slapped together with little focus on details and timing. Is their march is a bitter funeral procession or a dance celebration? Is it a Lebanese cultural convention or a joke on the viewer? One can’t be sure, with the arid landscape devoid of reference points.

Where Do We Go Now? begins and ends in the same location, with moments of disagreement and peace sprinkled in-between. A host of cast members and stories are told simultaneously, with few singled out as the major players. Instead, all are united by one central theme – religion – and Where Do We Go Now? carries on to share all of religion’s beauties and tragedies, in equal measure.

REVIEW CONTINUED BELOW

When a peaceful village finally receives consistent television reception, its residents gather in communion to enjoy the perks of reliable outside influence. It’s a simple pleasure that grows more complex with every viewing session, and the villagers begin to quarrel about the appropriateness of Western media content. While flipping through channels in haste, they stop briefly on a news station and learn that religious tensions between Muslims and Christians are building elsewhere in Lebanon. The villagers, Muslims and Christians who have always lived side-by-side in harmony, are left to decide whether they should turn a blind eye to the conflicts or become swept up in the energies themselves.

A series of unfortunate misunderstandings ensue after the seed of doubt is planted. The once-peaceful village finds itself the site of finger-pointing accusations and ostentatious male displays of bravado. Overlooked all the while – not by the film, but by the film’s hot-headed male characters – is a group of females who work silently as a peacekeeping force. Their meddling tactics run from the absolutely ridiculous (hiring Ukranian dancers to distract their husbands, faking divine intervention, etc.) to the tragically desperate. Absurdities reminiscent of those from Delicatessen are seen during the film’s more manic moments – but these moments never carry on for too long, as they are balanced often by serious emotional wake-up calls.

Where Do We Go Now? is a brilliant hybrid of comedy and drama that embraces heart-wrenching sadness and laugh-out-loud hilarity with equal restraint. It is a poignant reminder that even the most tragic of moments can contain glimmers of light, and that light can shine through tragedy.

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