This week's top pick is a unique dramedy that made headlines in 2011, when it beat a number of Oscar hopefuls for the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Directed by Nadine Labaki, "Where Do We Go Now?" explores how religion affects the lives of people whose opposing views collide on a daily basis. Though it is set in Lebanon, its universal relevance is obvious. Specifically, it seeks to address the tensions between Christians and Muslims when they are forced to coexist.
"Where Do We Go Now?" takes place in a Lebanese village inhabited by presumably a Muslim majority and a prominent Christian minority. The village is closed off from the outside world, as the women of this society work tirelessly to maintain the peace, controlling the influx of information from TV and radio. While a civil war rages on around them, these women are wary of their own experiences with violence, as squabbles between the men often come to a fatal end. Frustrated by the endless cycle of mourning, the film shows us their desperate attempts to keep everyone happy, often using comical means to do so.
When I first watched the trailer for "Where Do We Go Now?", I dismissed it as an idealist trifle. It seemed to depict an unrealistic world where hostile relations could be easily remedied through music, laughter and other quick fixes. To be honest, that concern may still be valid after seeing the film. The plot involves a series of distractions devised by the women to diffuse the tension, mainly the invitation of a few scantily clad blondes to appeal to the men's base desires. In addition, the film includes a few musical interludes that could have - and should have - formed the basis for a separate film altogether.
Indeed, it's all fun and games until violence flares up again, resulting in a particularly devastating tragedy. While Labaki ensures that the comedic portions are highly entertaining with the various outrageous schemes, she doesn't shy away from the harsh reality of this environment. We are made acutely aware of the danger of such deep-rooted fundamentalism on both sides, and Labaki's large ensemble of actresses is equally affecting in conveying their collective grief as they are with their optimistic spirit.
In the end, the film's proposal for harmonious living is hardly convincing. Still, it's a pleasant fantasy of what could be. As we see in the film's closing scene, the title "Where Do We Go Now?" is less a probing question than it is an exclamation about the folly of our world.