The tonal shifts in Where Do We Go Now? are hard to swallow
Starring Nadine Labaki and Leyla Hakim. In Arabic, English, and Russian with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, June 1, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
A French-Lebanese coproduction, Where Do We Go Now? was directed and cowritten by Caramel’s Nadine Labaki, who obviously has a big heart: she never met a film technique she didn’t love. Slapstick comedy, angsty melodrama, dream scenes, and even lyrical dance numbers manage to show up in a tiny village relatively unscarred by the sectarian violence plaguing much of the country. (Lebanon goes unnamed here.) The locals, who barely have TV and radio, can only connect with the outside world on a narrow cliffside path through mines and barbed wire. The movie suggests that may be a good thing.
The tousle-haired Labaki also plays a Christian café keeper who makes goo-goo eyes at the Muslim handyman (Julian Farhat) fixing up her place. The local priest and imam (Samir Awad and Ziad Abou Absi) are best buds and remain voices of reason when villagers get contagious whiffs of trouble happening elsewhere. Why everyone is so ready to explode after decades of peaceful coexistence is never explored. We just know that it falls on the womenfolk, utterly united in their mission, to keep those childish men from going for their guns.
There is pleasure to be had from numerous scenes of female banter, some quite salty, during everyday chores or more elaborate plotting. But as the situation grows more desperate, their schemes turn silly. Few other films put forth hashish cookies and a busload of Ukrainian hookers as viable peacemaking solutions, and there are probably good arguments to be made for both. It’s just hard to swallow such abrupt shifts in tone when a movie also asks you to cry at actual bloodshed.
Watch the trailer for Where Do We Go Now?.