Nadine Labaki’s 2011 film Where Do We Go Now? explores comedy and community as solutions to the pain that results from past violence. Its frame is turbulent, but the story that is told is ultimately optimistic, humorous, and hopeful. (HRM: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Hannah Mayo
Where do we go Now? tells the story of an isolated village in an unnamed country (although it is assumed to be Lebanon) divided by half of its members’ identity with Christianity, and half to Islam. The people have managed to remain mostly peaceful, but as violence breaks out around the village tensions rise and a war between the two sides threatens to break out.
While the men of the village quarrel like fools, the women look at them with compassion and a hope that the fighting will stop. They have no care for who belongs to what religion, and are all friends with each other, bonded over a common pain resulting from past violence. They have all lost someone because of the fighting and will therefore do anything to stop it. This leads them to ridiculous and clever solutions to subdue the men, including breaking the community TV, strippers, and hash cookies.
Where Do We Go Now? maintains an optimistic spirit despite a dark and violent backdrop. Director Nadine Labaki, who also acts as one of the film’s main characters, has a caring and compassionate perspective on the violence in her home country of Lebanon. The film is not political and does not provide any historical context, rather focuses entirely on the humanity (and lack of) that exists within the situation. It is also important to note that no acts of violence are explicitly shown in the film —only the aftermath—which puts the focus on the people and not the conflict itself. She created a heartwarming, hopeful film that has universal relevance. The message comes down to be simply pro-human, valuing community and companionship, with nothing to complicate the message, because that is how the conversation should go.
The parts of the film that make it truly enjoyable to watch are the comedic moments that permeate even the scenes with the most conflict. The jokes are clever and genuinely entertaining. There are even a few musical numbers sprinkled in that convey the character’s inner feeling with more effectiveness than simple dialogue could. It creates a feeling of buoyancy both in the characters and the audience that gives an overall sense that this community will make it through.
Labaki’s style of filmmaking, with all its carefree musical numbers and comedy, feels quite detached from reality for much of it. While some may dismiss it because of this, I feel that this is what makes Where Do We Go Now? such a strong film. It has a sort of allegorical feeling, which is especially supported by the choice to keep the village and country in which it takes place unnamed. The story of religious quarreling and groundless masculinity is a universal one, as is the solution of compassion and community.
© Hannah Mayo (20 June 2019) FF2 Media
Photo Credits: Sony Pictures Classics
Q: Does Where Do We Go Now? pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Yes! Although many of the conversations amongst the women are about how to keep the men from fighting, they are mostly on the scale of the whole community, so I would say it passes the test.
Coach Katusha’s Comments:
Nadine Labaki is a very talented filmmaker who took to writing the script for Where Do We Go Now? as a reaction to the sectarian violence that awoke again in Beirut in 2008. Although her film is described as a fairy tale, there are so many threads of reality weaved into its setup.
After much conflict, the Christians and Muslims of a small village have finally found a balance where they can coexist. The women in the film are very sensitive to the fragility of the delicacy of this newfound balance, and do all they can to protect it.
The remote setting of the film takes out any distractions and points our focus towards the core of the film—human connections and understanding. There is a lot of beauty when people from very different belief systems and walks of life are able to be understanding towards one another, and the women in this piece represent exactly that. There is no denying that this is all told from the women’s perspective, but it is precisely because of this that we are able to see the many poignant moments of understanding and bonding between women in the movie that might otherwise have been omitted.
Labaki proves that regardless of the format, whether it is in directing, writing, or acting, she is a great storyteller. The delicate nature of some of the topics this 2011 film touches upon opens it up a lot of criticism, even so, it is with great poise that the film is chosen as Lebanon’s official Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submission in 2012. Most recently, it was also screened at Films on the Green 2019 to a large crowd at Washington Square Park. (KIZJ: 4/5)