'Where Do We Go Now?' (also known as 'Et Maintenant, On Va Où?'), directed by and starring Nadine Labaki, won the People’s Choice Award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival – an accolade which I (regrettably) doubt will draw in notoriously subtitle-allergic cinema-goers in their droves, but an award which is largely deserved.
Set in a remote, dusty Lebanese village, which has been ravaged by violent religious conflict between the Muslims and Christians who live there. The village’s inhabitants co-exist in a precarious state of peace, and whilst the women get along famously – banding together in grief over lost sons and husbands – the men are constantly on the brink of war. As petty arguments threaten to escalate into bloodshed, the women are forced to take action and distract the men – in a variety of mischievous and imaginative ways.
Female solidarity, sisterhood and compassion are themes that dominate the film, and for me, some of the most enjoyable scenes were those of brilliantly crude, gossipy, quick-fire chatter between the women of the village – I was reminded of Pedro Almodóvar’s 'Volver', which also did this particularly well.
'Where Do We Go Now?' also attempts to highlight the absurdities of religious conflict and the pointlessness of war, but strangely seems to shy away from any frank, direct depiction of violence. There are scuffles and skirmishes but few actual blows, and death is kept firmly off-screen, perhaps to the overall detriment of the film.
Although there are moments of genuinely moving, raw emotion and grief, these are juxtaposed (sometimes awkwardly) with comedy. Factor in the whimsical musical numbers, and you get a sense that the film ultimately offers a rather romanticised, unrealistic view of things.
However, in spite of this complaint, I did find 'Where Do We Go Now?' to be poignant, funny and charming. And though I do wish that Labaki had gone further and been more unflinching in her treatment of the darker elements of the film, it’s nevertheless a thought-provoking, enjoyable offering – and a welcome antidote to the summer blockbuster season.
'Where Do We Go Now?' is released in UK cinemas on 22 June through Revolver Entertainment.