Review: Where Do We Go Now?
The film is a tale of one unspecified Arab village—likely in Lebanon where the film was shot—that oscillates between coexistence and violence and an ever-present undercurrent of potentially explosive tension between its Christian and Muslim inhabitants. Where Do We Go Now, directed by and starring Nadine Labaki, is a modern fable, at once a film particular to religious divisions in the Middle East and one with universal resonance.Where Do We Go Now?
Production year: 2011
Country: Rest of the world
Runtime: 100 mins
Directors: Nadine Labaki
Cast: Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Julian Farhat, Kevin Abboud, Layla Hakim, Nadine Labaki, Yvonne Maalouf
Though it speaks to Christian and Muslim sectarianism, its message is as relevant to internal religious tensions amongst Muslims and Christians and between Muslims and Christians and peoples of other faiths and no faith.
Its evocation of radical empathy as a way to create conditions for peace between peoples of different faiths and backgrounds speaks to fundamental human tendencies to fear and reject difference, discriminate against those who are perceived as being different and seemingly less worthy of rights and dignity, and to initiate a spiral of hatred and destructiveness that descends into a relentless violence.
Where Do We Go Now is a film of profound moral and emotional integrity and rich and warm humanity. Its power is most deeply felt in the opening and closing portions of the film, which are original and daring in ways both seductive and compelling in the intensity of emotional impact achieved through the use of dance, movement, and music. They convey the tragedy of death and the futility and depravity of needless war and sectarianism with stark acuity.
It also features strong cinematography—sometimes a bit heavy-handed in its symbolism but still communicating visceral impact—that conveys the physical landscape and its scars, which also represent the emotional landscape and scars of its inhabitants.
The film struggles—at times precariously—to synthesize its dual commitment to drama and comedy yielding an uneven film which is not always sure of what it wishes to be cinematically and which sometimes lacks believability in its farcical excesses. But, in its humanism, evocation of the wit and wisdom of women and their grace and strength, and its fiercely urgent message of mutual respect and tolerance across boundaries of religious difference it is unflinching and extraordinarily moving.
The depth of love and protective care mothers have for their children, the camaraderie of women and their potential collective power, and the role of women in reigning in the dogmatism, division, and tendency in the men around them to use violence as a form of self-expression are central themes of the film.
The film shows respect for religion and its role in the lives of individuals and communities, but it also shows its potential for dangerous parochialism and chauvinism. It illustrates how the confidence of religious faith needs to be complemented with humility and respect for pluralism to ensure that it does not become a source of division that blinds people to the humanity of others.
It is also unafraid to depict the ways in which religion does not always provide satisfying answers or consolations, as in the scene where a mother who has lost her son directs despondent and angry language at a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Equally, it shows how religious leaders can choose to act wisely and create religious foundations for peaceful relations, as the imam and his Christian counterpart in the village do with plenty of good humor and the recognition of the intrinsic fallibility of their respective religious flocks.
This is a brave film that speaks eloquently and sincerely to the devastating wounds that human beings inflict on themselves and each other by refusing to recognize their common humanity. Equally, it is an evocation of the possibilities for transcending such tendencies, healing such wounds, and bringing people together where lives have been torn apart by hatred and hardened hearts.