Where Do We Go Now?

Where Do We Go Now?

(M) Hopscotch DVD/digital download

This inventive, thought-provoking film explores a theme as old as Aristophanes’ fifth century BC comedy, Lysistrata: women’s opposition to bloodshed and war in the face of male belligerence.

Set in a small, isolated Lebanese village, the Christian and Muslim members of the community — particularly the women — coexist as peacefully as the church and mosque which sit side-by-side against the stark rural skyline. But the village bears the scars of earlier bitter sectarian conflict in its surrounding fields full of mines — and its cemetery full of dead young men.

When Christian-Muslim conflict flares in the outside society, the women of the village unite to distract their menfolk and defuse the developing conflict via a range of comic strategies, including sabotaging the community’s single functioning TV, importing a group of Ukrainian strippers and serving up a huge batch of potent hash pastries.

The tone of the film darkens, however, when a young man is killed, aggression spirals and the women resort to a final desperate stratagem that pits human and family love against religious loyalties.

Written and directed by Nadine Labaki (following her impressive debut, the exquisite Caramel), this film does have its flaws. The tonal shifts from comedy to tragedy are sometimes disorienting, as is the uneasy stylistic juxtaposition of light-hearted song and dance numbers with serious drama.

A romantic subplot involving Christian cafe owner Amal (Labaki) and Muslim village handyman Rabih (Julien Farhart) is undeveloped and peters out halfway through the narrative.

Nevertheless, this unusual film engages through emotive drama, wry humour and fine performances by an excellent ensemble cast. Labaki is not afraid to take risks and delivers her anti-war message with verve, from the opening scene of a chorus of black-clad women travelling to the cemetery in a ritualised dance of grief, through to the superb tragicomic ending which poses the question Where do we go now? to chilling effect.

Katrina Samaras

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