Where Do We Go Now? is easier to admire than praise. An Arabic-language film that’s part comedy, tragedy and musical, it was a surprise hit at the Toronto Film Festival, winning the People’s Choice Award. But while this Middle East fantasy certainly has good intentions, they aren’t enough to keep it afloat.
Slated to open Friday at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial, the movie is set in an isolated Lebanese village with an uneasy truce between the town’s Christian and Muslim populations. The peacekeepers are the women — Christian and Muslim alike — who distract the men’s bellicose tendencies any way they can, whether it’s hiring a Ukrainian striptease artists or sedating the guys with hash-laden sweets.
It’s Lysistrata by way of Al-Jazeera.
Writer-director Nadine Labaki is part of the ensemble cast as Amal, a Christian widow and restaurant owner who has one of the film’s better scenes, an effective (if unsubtle) speech in which she admonishes the men for their violence. “You think we’re just here to mourn you?” she screams.
But most of Where Do We Go Now? is burdened with comedy that relies on the conceit that all the men in town are idiots. The drama, meanwhile, feels overwrought.
It’s a mess, albeit an occasionally intriguing one. The film opens with a group of women — dressed in black, hands over their hearts — walking in step toward a cemetery on the outskirts of town. They are en route to mourn the deaths of husbands and brothers, fathers and sons. The women’s movements vacillate between a march and a synchronized dance.
The image is beautiful and quirky, and it’s a promise that isn’t quite fulfilled by what follows.