|Film review: Where Do We Go Now?|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Thursday, 21 June 2012 17:13|
Director: Nadine Labaki
It doesn't happen straight away. There's shuffling, twitching, the odd fidget or two as Nadine Labaki's follow-up to Caramel gets into gear. Following a group of well-meaning teens around their remote Middle East village, we watch them set up their one television outside the main town - the only place it can get a signal.
But when the townspeople finally sit down to enjoy this connection to the outside world, it only brings them bad news: riots and clashes between Christian and Muslims, the one thing their bipartisan community, under an uneasy truce, doesn't need.
Quick as a flash, bereaved mothers and smart sisters jump up and start quarrelling over petty nothings, screaming to down out the noise of the TV. The men go home, mostly clueless, convinced their womenfolk are crazy.
And that's when it happens. You smile. Then you start to titter. And that gentle streak of humour keeps on building – by the end of Labaki’s low-key comedy (featuring the best title reveal I've seen since Batman Begins), you’ll be chuckling away at the quaint silliness of it all. Not bad for a film about religious conflict.
Labaki's trick is to treat it almost like a sitcom. Led by the resourceful Takla (Moussawbaa) and busybody mayor’s wife Yvonne (Maalouf), these desperate Lebanese housewives find increasingly far-fetched ways to avoid any disputes among the hot-headed men. Fake miracles, technological sabotage, drugs; anything to keep the peace. They even hire belly dancers from Ukraine – sex, the one thing that can override any male emotion.
In between their hare-brained schemes, local life is punctuated by carefully balanced tragedies and trivial spats. Even the defecation of a goat in the mosque is enough to start World War IIII off again. "When will you learn?" screams Christian barmaid Madame Amale (Labaki herself) in one heightened scene. She already has enough on her plate, what with her star-crossed crush on her cafe’s Muslim decorator Rabih (Farhat).
Despite the solid performances from the massive ensemble (some of them untrained actors), the shifts in tone occasionally come across as melodramatic, especially when plonked next to random song-and-dance numbers. But while the uneven script and over-populated cast do irk, the charming humour and family grief never fails to tickle or move. Like last year’s A Separation, Where Do We Go Now? is smart enough to rely on that personal touch, leaving any wider social commentary unspoken.
Would our planet be a less violent place if it were run by women? Labaki’s not saying that. Instead, she weaves a portrait of a hilarious, yet sadly foolish, world, where no matter what happens, nothing can stop an animal crapping all over the political carpet. And then she watches wryly as people run around frantically trying to clean it up.
Charming, funny, moving and whimsical. Where Do We Go Now? Back to the cinema to watch it again.