Ladies want to know: why can’t we all just get along?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

AL­LOW ME to be­gin by be­ing most un­fair to Na­dine Labaki’s of­ten charm­ing, though ul­ti­mately rather scat­ter­shot fol­low-up to the much ad­mired Caramel (2007).

There was, in the 1970s, a no­to­ri­ous Bri­tish sit­u­a­tion com­edy called Mind Your Lan­guage. A black man and a white man, next-door neigh­bours, spent their days ex­chang­ing racial ep­i­thets while their re­spec­tive wives cast their ex­as­per­ated eyes to heaven. The se­ries was not known for its pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics. But it did, at least, ac­knowl­edge that, if women ruled the Earth, the planet might be a nicer place to live.

Where Do We Go Now?, set, like Caramel, in the Mid­dle East, pushes this sup­po­si­tion to breaking point. Al­most all the men are oafs, big­ots or blun­der­ers. Al­most all the women are gen­er­ous, tol­er­ant and hon­est.

Trou­ble ar­rives in a re­mote vil­lage when some­body man­ages to get a tele­vi­sion work­ing. News of po­lit­i­cal dis­con­tent in the outer world trig­gers a dis­pute be­tween Chris­tian and Mus­lim cit­i­zens. When blood ap­pears in the font of the church, the Chris­tian men flail vi­o­lently at Mus­lim chil­dren in the street. The sit­u­a­tion gets steadily more se­ri­ous un­til lives are at risk.

Mean­while, the women of the vil­lage

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con­tinue to chat tol­er­antly in a cafe run by a Chris­tian woman. They laugh about their men­folk, but they are aware of the brood­ing dan­ger. Crafty schemes are hatched to defuse the sit­u­a­tion.

Where Do We Go Now? (the ti­tle un­com­fort­ably re­flects the film’s own lack of di­rec­tion) is very good in parts, but a wild in­con­sis­tency of tone causes suc­ces­sive scenes to jar dis­cor­dantly. At times it has the light-footed grace of Caramel; at oth­ers, the direc­tor seeks to have tragedies de­scend from largely cloud­less skies.

In­deed, even the form of the film is in­con­sis­tent. An early se­quence, in which the cafe owner sings of her love for the Mus­lim handy­man, sug­gests that Labaki has am­bi­tions to make a mu­si­cal. The idea is then, how­ever, dropped and no fur­ther num­bers ap­pear for more an hour.

Labaki also mis­han­dles a sub­plot that finds the women invit­ing a group of Ukrainian ex­otic dancers to stay in the vil­lage. The mo­ti­va­tions are ob­scure and the women are largely aban­doned by the script shortly af­ter mak­ing their ar­rival.

Still, Labaki re­mains a hu­mane, sen­si­tive direc­tor with a keen eye for the ab­sur­di­ties of the hu­man con­di­tion. Though the film does not quite hold to­gether, it re­mains en­joy­able on a scene-by-scene ba­sis. Push­ing pro­fes­sional ac­tors to­gether with am­a­teurs, she cre­ates a vi­brant com­mu­nity that buzzes with hu­mour and frailty.

The film is try­ing so hard to do the right thing it would seem aw­fully mean-spir­ited to hold its in­con­sis­ten­cies against it.

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