Drama, comedy get really lost
By John DeFore
Friday, May 18, 2012
“Lysistrata” goes to Lebanon in “Where Do We Go Now?” -- a satire in which pathos competes with light comedy and neither quite flourishes.
Writer-director-star Nadine Labaki’s second film aims at much bigger targets than her first: While “Caramel” offered romance in a Beirut beauty shop, this one ponders Christian-Muslim conflict and the hotheaded simplemindedness of husbands and sons.
Set in an unnamed village where adherents of both faiths live in peace, the ensemble tale opens on a stylized but somber note -- women moving in choreographed procession to tend loved ones’ graves -- only to spend the next half-hour looking for laughs. When the village gets its first television, wives rightly worry their husbands will be provoked by news of strife in other towns; they quickly embark on a series of schemes to distract the menfolk and quash little disputes before they escalate.
Convening in a cafe run by Labaki’s character, Amale, they hatch plans both straightforward (silencing unpleasant news by sabotaging the TV) and outlandish (importing a busload of exotic dancers to distract the men). But while all the ploys have comedic promise -- particularly one in which the mayor’s wife feigns a visitation by the Virgin Mary -- Labaki’s script chooses not to let any one of them play out for more than a couple of scenes, rejecting the kind of escalation that makes comedy memorable.
It’s not only comedy Labaki abandons midstream: The Christian Amale, a beautiful young widow, has a budding flirtation with a Muslim named Rabih.
But even after putting the film on pause for a fantasy-romance musical number (one of a few here, each of which feels out of place), Labaki forgets all about this relationship in the movie’s final act.
Labaki is on solid ground when in battle-of-the-sexes mode, and some of her female co-stars (whose delivery of earthy zingers belies their characters’ supposed propriety) flesh out the movie’s convincing and likable sense of community. But this vibe stalls each time real violence or animosity rears up: It’s hard to grieve for a mother who must hide one son’s corpse and shoot her other child in the foot when those tragedies are bookended by farce.
Contains thematic drug material, some sensuality and violent images. In Arabic with English subtitles.