Tag Archives: Nadine Labaki

Where Do We Go Now? – Review

Dance, tragic dance

A sectarian struggle between Christians and Muslims lies at the centre of this intermittently serious and slight comedy/drama/semi-musical. Lebanese auteure Nadine Labaki has upped the stakes for her second feature film, and the director of Caramel has this time perhaps bit off more than she can chew.

The set-up appears simple. A small town in rural Lebanon has been cut off from the rest of the country following years of civil strife – it is surrounded by landmines on all sides and the only bridge out of town is crumbling and wrapped in barbwire, too dangerous for many to cross. Within its social vacuum, the town has found an almost soap operatic level of fraternity, with Christians and Muslims co-existing peaceably.

This peace is disturbed when the town’s clever youths manage to get a TV signal atop a nearby hill, and arrange for a town viewing, à la the local cinema in times gone by. But when the TV brings news of turmoil between Muslims and Christians from across the country, ancient rivalries are rekindled and a cold war is drawn between men on either side. “Elsewhere is elsewhere,” insists the imam, but the message does not take. Soon pranks are committed against church and mosque alike, leading to an iconoclasm that threatens an outbreak of violence. It is up to the women – mothers and wives, Muslim and Christian – to keep the peace. Unwilling to sacrifice their friendships with one another and fearful of losing any more of their young men to fruitless bloodshed, they aim to settle the matter with a few pranks of their own.

Labaki, a truly feminist filmmaker, works on the old adage that if women ruled the world there would be no war, and spins a fun, sometimes harrowing, tale from it. The women’s attempt to calm the tidal wave of testosterone by inviting exotic dancers to visit the village plays like classic 1950s Hollywood comedy. But when tragedy strikes and the tone shifts, the film’s balance is upended – one can’t but feel Where Do We Go Now? wants to have its cake and eat it.

Where does this go now?

The film also struggles through Labaki’s decision (as well as directing she co-wrote the film, and fills the lead role) to make the film a musical… well, barely. Opening promisingly with a Pina Bausch-esque march of mourning by the town’s women to the local cemetery, where the throughway bisects the Christian and Muslim plots, the film manages to squeeze in only three more songs into its 110-minute running time. One wonders why they bothered, especially when two of those songs are related to Labaki’s character’s forbidden romance with a local Muslim, which becomes less and less the focus of the film as time passes, and is sadly never acceptably resolved.

But for all these problems, Labaki’s film is very sweet and well-meaning. Its message is all too simple, but it is very cleverly put forward, and the finale is quite the treat. Labaki gets solid performances across the board from her cast of dozens, and does not save all the best scenes for herself. Like Caramel before it, Where Do We Go Now? is shot in sumptuous browns, blues and yellows, and is always beautiful to watch.

Let down by its convolutions and ambitions, this remains a strong, powerful movie, and further secures Lakaki’s reputation as one of the most talented female filmmakers working today.


(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)


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Mmmm… Caramel…


When one might expect audiences to be utterly abuzz with Indy 4 mania, it cannot be ignored that the Sex and the City film is really what people, and by that I mean women, girls, their boyfriends and gay men, are talking about the most, despite its release being a week behind the latest Jones adventure (Indiana that is, not Samantha).

It might seem odd therefore that while the 19-year wait for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has given audiences a flavour of nostalgia, Sex and the City is still fresh enough for the story to be picked up right where it left off after its 3 year absence. Certainly a dead horse is still being flogged here, but this one has suffered far less decomposition and is wearing Manolo Blahnik hooves.

Not for a moment do I have any faith that the Sex and the City film will be worth seeing; although familiar with and regularly amused by the show I find it hard to believe that this will be any more than an exercise in commercialist audience-driven drivel. SatC lost its appeal when the three interesting girls (Carrie being too despicable a human being to deserve life support after a motor accident) all entered relationships with men who were far better written than they were, and far too good for them.

It is sad therefore that women in Ireland and Britain will be flocking in gaggles and gangs to SatC when what is likely to be the sweetest girl’s movie of the year, Caramel, is still in (albeit selected) cinemas.

Caramel, or “Sex and the Lebanon” as I’ve dubbed it, is a gorgeous little story about the effects of Lebanese culture and society on the women within it. Centred on a Westernised beauty salon, the four women whose story it tells bear their own similarities to the HBO girls on the other side of the world. Layale has dreams of finding the perfect combination of love and sex, but with a married man who can never really be hers. Nisrine is a sweet girl excited about her forthcoming marriage, and so willing to please her husband that she will go to extreme lengths to disguise that she is not a virgin.

With less crassness but just as much bite as SatC, Caramel is as much a satire on the cultural landscape of Beirut as it is on the strengths and weaknesses of women; all wrapped up in a sweet little package that looks absolutely gorgeous in sun-drenched natural colours.

Adding an extra layer to the film is a parallel storyline about a local elderly seamstress, Rose, who embarks on the first romantic episode of her entire life having spent her whole life looking after her sister, who is somewhat unbalanced but sweetness personified.

The story lacks any of Carrie Bradshaw’s pathetic puns and philosophical waxings (the only waxing done here is of leg hair), it is simply what it is, a lovely slice of women’s lives.

The soundtrack also adds a great texture to the film, and the considerable wit on display (a bickering couple in their car at night are arrested for indecency, a splendid moment of editing makes light work of a cringe-inducing medical procedure) is of a kind rarely seen in English-language features these days. Many of the finest moments centre on policeman Youssef, who is enamoured of Layale; in one scene he watches her on her phone through a window and imagines it is him on the other end of the line, later, having been shaved by her in the salon, he strokes his upper lip where his moustache once was with the delighted expression of a young teenager who, having shaved for the first time, remembers the softer skin of their childhood.

Perhaps most impressive of all is that the film was written and directed by the 34-year-old Nadine Labaki, who also plays the lead role of Layale. A remarkable achievement for her first feature film.

While the hordes can surely not be dissuaded from rushing to see Carrie and Co.’s feeble attempts to still be young, fabulous and relevant, perhaps some can be convinced to make a trip to see this too. So soon after Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, it looks as though honest stories from the Middle East may have more to say about women globally now than the collected adventures of a woman whose sole talent is to match her shoes and dress with a hat that looks like a triffid.


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