Familiarity can breed content

Title: Where Do We Go Now?

Director: Nadine Labaki

Rated: M

The most intriguing and engaging thing about Where Do We Go Now? is the way that it blends comedy and tragedy, satire and music, and fanciful elements with grim realities. It is an endearing and quite delightful film that tries hard to appeal and succeeds. The story is contemporary and while the director, Nadine Labaki is Lebanese, the unnamed village setting could be anywhere in the Middle East.

This is Labaki's second feature, and like her first film it is an atypical and most interesting take on life in the cauldron of the Middle East. Her first feature, Caramel was a popular comedy based on the meeting point of five women in a Beirut hair salon.

The setting for Where Do We Go Now? is more traditional, a remote and isolated village where the population is roughly half Muslim and half Christian. A church and a mosque feature beside each other in the centre of the village. A religious war rages in the countryside and the place is surrounded by land mines. But the people have virtually no communication with the outside world, and while there are some differences simmering in the menfolk, the women all seem to get along fine, and they are determined to conspire to keep the men from fighting.

The film begins with a poem about these "two clans with broken hearts, under a burning sun", and with the striking image of a slow procession of swaying women moving towards the cemetery. But the story is readily able to shift into comedy, romance and music. Some of the characters have scenes bursting into song, while Labaki herself features as a cafe owner in a romantic collision with village painter Rabih (Julian Farhat).

While the boorish menfolk are the underbelly of the story, this is largely a bittersweet tale of the spirited women of the village, and the ends they will go to to keep the war from their lives and their children. Both the village priest and imam, who are actually friends, do their best to avoid conflicts, but it is the women who resort to sabotaging any news reportage, as well as enlisting Russian strippers to distract the men, and then there's the interesting ploy of the hashish-laced feast.

Labaki is able to move the narrative from lighthearted to heartbreaking, and while the story is very quirky at times, there is also considerable depth in this soulful and sometimes tragic story. It is a charming movie in which Labaki successfully engages a mostly non-professional cast.

Where Do We Go Now? will be screened at Star Court Theatre on Sunday, August 5 at 5.30pm and Friday, August 10 at 7.30pm.

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