Two and a half millennia ago, Aristophanes mocked the macho urge for violence by having women declare a moratorium on sex as long as their men continue to long for war. Writer-director Nadine Labaki has created a Levantine Lysistrata by transposing the ancient Greek battle of the sexes to an isolated village in contemporary Lebanon. With one church and one mosque, its residents — described by Amale (a beautiful café owner played by Labaki) as “two clans with broken hearts under a burning sun” — maintain a tense truce in the aftermath of civil war between Christians and Muslims. The slightest provocation — even a Christian’s goat wandering into the mosque — incites the village’s hot-headed men to resume sectarian strife.
Despite religious differences, the women of the village form a sisterhood of reconciliation. They conspire to distract the men from fighting by hiding guns, lacing cakes with hashish, and importing an itinerant band of Ukrainian strippers. The film itself is as resourceful as its women, employing a wide range of styles and tones to convey the absurdity and grief of a community bent on self-destruction. Like a Lebanese mezze, an array of small dishes designed to sate eclectic palates, Where Do We Go Now? tosses in a taste of everything — song, dance, farce, romance, elegy. But the result is a Bollywood-like mishmash out of place on a Middle Eastern menu.
The sentimental premise that all women are pacifists and all men belligerent reduces the characters to simple-minded stereotypes. One can admire Labaki’s valiant effort to portray the inanity and futility of the Christian-Muslim conflict and take heart from the fact that Where Do We Go Now? has become, after Titanic and Avatar, the third highest-grossing film in Lebanon. But the fact that the film had to be expurgated when shown in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world suggests continuing uncertainty about where we go now.
Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant on va où?)
Dir. Nadine Labaki; writ. Thomas Bidegain, Nadine Labaki; feat. Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Leyla Hakim, Nadine Labaki (PG-13). Opening July 27 at Regal Fiesta 16, 12631 Vance Jackson, (210) 641-6906, regmovies.com
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