Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s new film “Where Do We Go Now?” defies description. Part comedy, part drama, part musical, it doesn’t fit anywhere. Which is why it fits in everywhere. Just like the village it depicts.
The film, opening Friday, centers on a mythic village in Lebanon, where Christians and Muslims coexist in relative peace. They’re cut off from the rest of Lebanon thanks to a destroyed bridge, so it’s only through a jerry-rigged television that news of sectarian violence elsewhere in the country reaches the small town.
Having seen how quickly a small argument can turn into a holy war, the women of the village do everything in their power to prevent their husbands, brothers and sons from taking up arms — acts that include destroying the TV, hiring Ukranian strippers and baking hashish into pastries to get everyone to chill.
Labaki wrote the film shortly after discovering she was pregnant; she got the news the same day the 2008 conflict between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah broke out. “The conflict only lasted a few weeks, but during those two weeks I thought how absurd it can be — how can we be able to take up weapons when we had years of peace?” she says. “The fact that I was pregnant changed my perspective. You think of this child, and what kind of society is this where everything is a fuse to start a war?”
Motherhood’s influence on Labaki follows her into a role in the film: She stars as Amale, a widow with a young son. Amale primarily wants to keep the peace in the village so she can go back to running her café, but she also wants the society to change before her son gets old enough to load a gun.
“I think [women] have to become more and more aware of our responsibility,” she says. “We have to stop this fatalistic approach. We have to become more and more aware that it’s the way we educate, it’s the way we raise our children.”
Labaki took care not to name the village and to isolate it as much as she could from the real Lebanon so that the story felt more universal. “This is not a story about Christians and Muslims in Lebanon,” says Labaki. “This is a conflict between human beings.”