There’s something about the opening scene to Nadine Labaki’s 2011 film, Where Do We Go Now? that is so haunting. A couple of dozen women shrouded in dust and black cloth stomp their feet to the poetic recitation of lead character Amale (Labaki). It’s militaristic the way that their synchronized motion is greeted by clouds of sand and the echoey drum of their footsteps. This sequence sets Labaki’s film up like a Beyonce ‘Lemonade’ music video — its ghostly, dramatic, kind of terrifying, and definitely intimidating.
Director, actress and writer Nadine Labaki plays the lead role of Amale in this effortlessly intriguing film about religious warfare in an unnamed but likely-Lebanonesque country. The village women are desperate to find a way to keep the local men from starting a religious war in their town. This town, already crowded with mines and gravesites, doesn’t need any more death tolls.
Tragedy comes easy for them; which is why Labaki’s techniques of intertwining the town’s tendencies to fight, sneak goats into the chapel, and spread chicken blood on their enemies’ foreheads with comedy in the forms of hashish, burlesque dancers, and music is so refreshing.
Rotten Tomatoes wasn’t a big fan of this one. Averaging at about 52% in favor of this film, it appears that Where Do We Go Now? doesn’t meet the average viewer’s expectations of a musical comedy. If you were to ask me, I think that with WDWGN? you have to be ready to take it as it comes. There is never a point in this film that you can assume you know what’s coming and be correct. Tonally, this creates some issues with the flow of the plot. With lots of effort and set-up of both aspects of comedy and tragedy, there is very little transition between either. This may make it difficult for some viewers to change gears.
Matthew Lucas, a reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes, had this to say about the film which seemed to be the most fitting description:
“The ingredients are all undeniably tasty, but they never quite add up to anything particularly memorable”
What keeps the audience on their toes with this one is that every scene has so much animation and life to it that it’s hard to look away. Viewers have a hard time remembering what they’re watching for, though.
I found myself waiting around for the next song and dance number that never came, and then, in the last twenty minutes of the film, there it was. Used to musicals relying on music to elaborate on the plot, I found myself applying way too much significance to the song numbers, which really seemed like they were meant to lighten up the plot.
The relationship between the Christian and Muslim men of the town is overwhelmingly toxic and war-bound. They are trigger-happy fragments of the same broken image — terrified, blameless men who are convinced they’ll find solace in the other group’s downfall. It is the women who puppeteer the men, whether the men know it or not, and do what is truly good for the town, often at their own expense. Perhaps one of the most comedic parts of the tragic moments in Where Do We Go Now? is how clueless the men seem to be in their own demise. Their recklessness towards each other has them missing out on the womens’ moves entirely — and while they sabotage the town’s holy spaces, the women have convinced them that they are prophets and that they should provide shelter to a busload of bedazzled dancers.
Labaki knew what she doing with this one, though it might have gone over the heads of some in the audience. The chaos, the chatter, the way it was so hard to keep up with the villagers, all rang true to a typical small town. The ways that she incorporated real, raw grief, loss and sorrow and then furthered it all with elements of childish, giddy humor aligned the film perfectly with a well-rounded film.
That haunting, beautiful intro? It’s perfectly complemented by an even more haunting outro that snatches the lingering smile right off the face of the viewer. The only time that the words “Where do we go now?” are uttered is totally unforgettable, without giving too much away now.
I may be the first to say it, but Where Do We Go Now? is 5-star worthy.