Lebanese multi-tasker Nadine Labaki is back with Where Do We Go Now? (2011), the follow-up to 2007’s Caramel. Not content with being solely behind the camera, Labaki is also in front and beyond, with actor, director, writer and producer credits to her name. Where Do We Go Now? was released to praise aplenty when it won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Compared to Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Calendar Girls (2003), some critics cited it as a “feel-good movie”, but exactly how good can a film that juggles so many heavy themes with comedy and song really make you feel?
The action unfolds in an isolated rural community where Muslims and Christians live harmoniously, away from war and the interference of the media. The introduction of a make-shift satellite brings news to the town of conflict. The stars of this show are the women, who on both sides use their skills and tear-drops of divine intervention to keep their frighteningly volatile husbands and sons from finding out the news and bringing national conflict into their otherwise tranquil village.
Labaki’s vision begins promisingly, like an all-female Beau Travail (1999), with a mass of mourning women in a wittily choreographed funeral procession, but before them lays a graveyard divided into Muslim and Christian. The juxtaposition of humour and the dark truths of war here, suggest what lies ahead. But what works out so well initially, fails to continue throughout Where Do We Go Now?. The ensemble cast do an admirable job of bringing the human drama to the screen and there are some stand-out performances from the female leads. However, there are way too many actors and countless subplots, both humorous and disturbing, leaving little time for the viewer to develop a bond with the characters.
Kudos to the obviously talented director, as she has a great eye and the statement she is attempting to make about war, religion and cross-faith romance is both bold and brave. However, you can’t help but think maybe she has taken too much on, as the film gradually loses sight, lacks coherence and fails to make the point it initially sets out to. Added to the mix of humour and tragedy is the occasional musical interlude which sticks out like a sore and unwelcome thumb. There are scenes of visceral and emotive drama, especially as a mother attempts to hide the death of her son from the village to abstain further bloodshed, but follow this with an amusing song about baking hash-cakes and how stupid men are, and it all feels a little white-washed and overblown with twee.
Even with the film’s faults, Labaki proves herself as one to watch in the small field of female directors. However, it’s the sheer quantity of characters, the juggling of drama, humour and a good old sing-song that suggests she’s bitten off more than she can chew this time around. It’s a shame, as this is a really meaty, largely untouched subject matter that had great potential. Where Do We Go Now? proves that Labaki knows what she’s doing as a writer, director and actor, but as the title suggests she doesn’t quite know how to deliver it to her audience.
A divisive film? Check out our ★★★★☆ theatrical review of Where Do We Go Now? here.