Movie Review: Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant, on va ou?)
The Charlotte Observer
The most reliable sign of a film that’s both a crowd-pleaser and a thoughtful piece of work is probably the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The list from the last dozen years includes “Amelie,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” “Whale Rider,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The King’s Speech.”
“Where Do We Go Now?” took last year’s trophy, and we quickly see why. It’s an approachable film that handles a serious topic deftly and offers a fresh take on a familiar subject: Lebanese women in a remote village try to keep their Catholic and Muslim husbands away from the kind of sectarian fighting that has torn the country apart.
Director Nadine Labaki lets us know at once that we’re in a fantasy. Black-garbed wives step toward us, swaying and dipping in time to the Arabic music on the soundtrack, like the chorus of “Les Miz” intoning “Do You Hear The People Sing?”
The movie occasionally stops for Bollywood-style numbers where songs depict characters’ daydreams: A café owner suddenly imagines that the decorator painting her walls has tipped his ladder-down, Astaire-style, to sweep her off her feet.
But the fanciful treatment doesn’t prevent Labaki and the five writers from turning serious: An accidental shooting on a road outside the village brings death into this circle and threatens to spark a spiritual conflagration.
The trouble begins innocently enough, with a teenaged boy and a television set.
The kid figures out a way to get reception so good the entire village turns out to watch. The wives are disturbed by his choice of a sexy soap opera but more worried about the news broadcasts that report armed battles between Muslims and Christians.
Their unnamed village has known no such strife. Here the priest and imam share tea, and even the uneducated men coexist in jocular harmony.
So the women smash the loudspeaker hooked up to the TV, hoping to silence the outside world. The teen borrows a speaker from his church, accidentally knocking over and breaking the wooden cross. Gossip suggests that Muslims were to blame, and the local mosque is full of farm animals the next day. Tempers erupt, and even the budding romance between Catholic café owner Amal (Labaki) and Muslim decorator Rabih (Julian Farhat) seems doomed.
The women try every distraction they can think of, even importing a quintet of blonde Ukrainian “dancers” whose bus suspiciously breaks down outside the village. But the remedy proves to be more drastic and much more unexpected than that.
This is Labaki’s second film after the 2007 “Caramel,” about five women in Beirut. She grew up in a city (Baabda, headquarters of Lebanon’s president) but seems at home in the countryside, and the characters don’t become stereotypes. Afaf (Leyla Hakim) may be a typically bereaved mother who has already lost one son to such a war, but the way she deals with her bereavement is unpredictable.
Even the title holds a surprise. It seems to denote the women’s confusion as they fail to deflect their men from combustible behavior, but the real meaning isn’t clear until the final spoken line. When that moment comes, it’s wryly funny and sad at the same time – like the picture itself.