The TIFF Audience Award winner from last year's festival slipped under everyone’s radar prior to its surprise win. Indeed, it's a clever yet profound microcosm of those entrenched centuries-long Middle Eastern conflicts that have been the cause of so many unnecessary wars - a light and whimsical take on heavy subject matter seems to have pissed off some critics, but going by the audience reception at TIFF it's one of the most accessible films on the subject.
Where Do We Go Now (2012) dir. Nadine Labacki
Starring: Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Layla Hakim, Nadine Labaki, Yvonne Maalouf, Antoinette Noufaily, Julien Farhat
By Alan Bacchus
When the peaceful religious cohabitation in a small Lebanese town becomes threatened by bigger-picture political conflicts it takes a group of like-minded village women from both sides of the religious divide to stem the tide of violence. In this case it's Christians and Muslims, both living in a small Lebanese village, and though their churches sit side by side, they've lived peacefully for years. But when news of a newly sparked conflict in the outside world trickles in, Amale (Labaki), Takla (Moussawbaa), Afaf (Hakim), Yvonne (Maalouf) and Saydeh (Noufaily) band together to plug the leaks of information.
While the threats are dangerous, the methods of the women are comical, a duality in tone controlled masterfully by Labaki. The ruses range from burning newspapers, disrupting television reception, hiring a troupe of Russian showgirls to distract the men, and even holding a town meeting and serving hash-brownies for snacks.
Labaki also peppers some unexpected musical sequences into the narrative. Some proponents have latched onto these scenes and called the film a musical, but if anything they are so few and far between and not integral to the narrative that they are actually distracting.
The ingenuity to praise here is Labaki's artful ability to mix cinematic whimsy with the bleak backdrop of Middle Eastern politics. She populates her village with warmth and flavour – the kind we would see in those small town British comedies like Local Hero and Waking Ned Devine.
Labaki's trump card that she holds in her back pocket is the final scene, which explains the reason for the film's title. Just when we think the women have successfully solved their problem, one last choice to be made could set them back to the beginning. It's a delightful open-ended final frame, which speaks to the never-ending saga of the conflicts in that part of the world.