Beginning on a sombre note, Where Do We Go Now? quickly moves on to introduce the large cast of characters. At the forefront is Amale (Labaki) and Rabih (Julian Farhat); a Christian and Muslim respectively who dream of one day being together. Their relationship is the trigger for the first musical number in which the would-be lovers share a duet. The other central figure is Claude Baz Moussawbaa’s Takla, a mother who epitomises the lengths the women of the village will go to in order to prevent tensions from rising along the religious divide. Though it takes a bit for the film to find its stride, for much of Where Do We Go Now? the village is like a powder keg waiting to explode, as incidents ignite intense responses from the men. It’s a troubling reminder of the power ideology holds over otherwise reasonable people.
For the most part, Where Do We Go Now? takes a warm-hearted approach to the mounting animosities, despite the possible consequences. Along with the obvious statement being made about the influence of religion in the region, the film also creates a picture of a culture where men are largely quick-tempered whilst the women defiantly retain their welcomed sensibilities. It’s a rare view into a troubled region, free of a westernised filter. From a filmmaking perspective, Where Do We Go Now? is somewhat of an oddity, which perhaps comes down to cultural differences. A major turning point in the film is exceptionally weighty and lays in stark contrast to what has come prior (including the introduction of a Ukranian stripper troupe- yes, really). Yet, there is no denying how effective and moving it is and this is where Moussawbaa steals the spotlight. Her heart-wrenching portrayal of strength in the face of tremendous grief is pivotal to the success of the story Labaki tells.
The film is bolstered by a terrific ensemble cast of supporting players and there are many laughs to be had amongst the social commentary. However, the scheme hatched by the women to calm the rising angst seems quite an odd one, especially in light of the tonal shift that occurs. Another musical number accompanying their preparation seems all too gleeful given the circumstances. The shift in styles and tones may be down to the collaborative script efforts (as Labaki had contributions from 4 others), but whatever the reason, the scene makes for a poor fit in Where Do We Go Now? To Labaki’s credit, the film quickly regains its footing with a clever turn that enjoyably makes a simple, but potent point.
Where Do We Go Now? is not without flaws, but has already proven to be a culturally significant work in Lebanon and its neighbouring regions. Here in the west, it provides an amusing, but stirring glimpse into a world most will have little understanding of. Striking a balance between tragic and light-hearted, Labaki’s film bravely tackles religious discord with a refreshing sense of hope. Despite a few missteps, Where Do We Go Now? is highly commendable and sends an important message to and from the region it represents.