Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 27, 2011 12:39 am 
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Ladies take over

Hallaa lawein / Et maintenant ou va ou?, or Where Do We Go Now? in English, is Lebanese director Labaki's more ambitious but less successful second film. While in her somewhat desheveled but appealing debut Caramel she stuck to the telenovella charms of people circulating around a Beirut hairdressing establishment, she now uses an Italian neorealist style with dashes of musical comedy to address a vaguely Lysistrata-like fable about her war-torn country's Muslim-Christian conflicts. Too many characters, a patchy script with undeveloped elements, and very uneven tone mar this sincerre and tumultuously colorful effort. The main topic: the Christian and Muslim women of a remote village (they can barely get TV reception) band together after the accidental killing of a teenage boy using any possibe means to stop their religously divided menfolk from taking up arms again. Trouble: the funny and the tragic don't mesh very well. Result: one may watch the spectacle sometimes puzzled, sometimes amused, but not moved or quite convinced. However this film, introduced in the Cannes Festival's Un Certain Regard category, offers enough drama and lively visuals to entertain Anglo as well as French audiences.

Labaki seems engaged with a series of set pieces that don't fit together very well and sometimes are oddly conceived from the start. The opening, a hillside parade of black-cressed Muslim and Christian women who dance their way across the landsape, declares that the preceedings are not meant to be realistic. Then a busy scene introuding the town's generally comical or boorish men sets another tone, perhaps drawn from Egyptian movies. Later, a traveling group of far from classical female Russian dancers comes to town, stuck when their bus breaks down. For a while they seem like they might be the film's motor or subject, but they just sort of blend in, underused. Later still comes the boy's death while on a trip with a friend. His corplse falls into his grieving mother's arms. After much weeping and wailing, the women band together to hide the arms, weave hashinsh into a bake-off of local delicacies, and try various other ruses to keep the men from killing each other again. The cemetary is already full of mostly good-looking young males sacrificed to the country's endless sectarianism. This final sequence is the occasion for several big set pieces, but when the ladies, who've deliberately reversed Muslim and Christian insignias, the Muslims donning crosses and the Christians headscarves, stop in the cemetary with the boy's corpse and say, Where Do We Go Now?, it makes for a somewhat baffling, abrupt finale. There's a lot of vivid local color here, but when one thinks of something like Villeneuve's Incendies this just seems a travesty on Lebanon's tragic history offering no solution to its deep problems. On the other hand, the sincerity and ambition of the effort deserve credit, and the film is full of women's empowerment symbolism that will appeal to female audiences of various cultures.

Et maintenant on va ou? Opened September 14, 2011 and was showing a month later at a dozen Paris cinemas and was watched for this review on October 26, 2011 at MK2 Hautefeuille. According to Allociné it received good if limited reviews (3.7 from 19 critics), but Cahiers du Cinéma said the film's onlyl merit was replying frankly to its title's question, "Right into a wall."Les Inrockuptibles kindly said it was "a feel-good movie in the best and least cynical sense of the term."

Alissa Simon's Variety review provides fuller details of cast and credits.

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