Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 1:17 pm 
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A nice fantasy

Lysistrata with song and dance and hashish cookies is what Nadini's sophomore effort is, a benign fantasy of how a Lebanese village might stop its deadly Muslim-Christian clashes if all the women just switched religions and hid their men's weaponry after getting them very stoned. The film is a charmer -- it's sort of as if the gut-wrenching Incendies were redone as a Don Camillo tale directed by De Sica with help from the Taviani brothers -- and it's the kind of movie you get if you mix up handsome young men, pretty women, lusty old ladies and chubby geezers in a grab bag of different physical and personality types located in a quaint hillside town. Labaki herself is one of the stars and she's a looker. (Her star-crossed would-be Muslim beau is played by Claude Baz Moussawbaa.) There's able cinmatography by dp Christophe Offenstein and plasing music by Khaled Mouzannar. The screenplay is from Thomas Bidegain, who collaborated with Jacques Audiard on the script of The Prophet.

Everybody gets together, plays together, sits in the local cafe together, watches a scratchy TV together. Just outside town there is the village cemetery, full of handsome young men, with the Christians on one side and the Muslims on the other. Though the women have taken over there's still a pair of corpses to be buried at the end, one Christian and one Muslim, and that's what the title is about. Since they women have switched religions ("I'm on the other side now"), which side do the coffins go to? it is a nice fantasy.

Where Do We Go Now? has hectares of charm and local color. Its Lebanese Arabic is the saltiest language imaginable, especially what comes of those feisty old dames' mouths. There is some Russian and English too, which comes from a totally unnecessary, and not at all glamourous, little troup of Russian women brought in to entertain and distract the men. As if we needed another distraction. Labaki likes to keep new stuff happening. She showed that in her debut, Caramel, which was less ambitious and a little more successful, and told a ronde of love and family stories centered on the employees and customers of a Beirut Beauty parlor. The only trouble with this method is that the audience never identifies much with any one person. In this new film we may have trouble even identifying members of the ensemble at times, especially with the young men, who don't wear outfits to tell us which religion they belong to.

The lack of strong emotion is more evident when the sectarian strife built into the Lebanese DNA takes its toll and the tone turns tragic. As Alissa Simon of Variety wrote, this "genial and at times genuinely inventive" film tickles the funny bone' but never quite 'taps the emotions.' She also notes "problems of tone, pacing and performance." Nonetheless when it played in Paris last fall (as Maintenant on va où? it was well received (Allociné 3.7, with even more enthusiasm from the public), and the charm goes a long way. This was also Lebanon's entry into the competition for the Best Foreign Picture Oscar, but not a finalist.

I originally reviewed Where Do We Go Now? when I saw it in Paris (Oct. 27, 2011). As I pointed out, reviewers with several of the more sophisticated French publications were unimpressed at Sept. 14 release time, though it did play in a lot of locations (and Caramel had had a French run in 2007 and a US one several years later). This is a feel-good movie with enough likability to carry it through a theatrical run, and may be enjoyed for years to come, but though it has lots of color, many of even the best scenes are derivative and not memorable.

Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? (in Lebanese Arabic) is included in the March 21-April 1, 2012 New Directors/New Films series, put on in New York by the Film Society of Lincoln Center jointly with the Museum of Modern Art. Showtimes:

Wednesday, March 21st | 7 PM | MoMA
Wednesday, March 21st | 8 PM | MoMA

(Where Do We Go Now? has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for US release, as has the other press screening of today, Garth Evans Indonesian-language martian arts action film The Raid.)

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