out of Five
Running time: 100
Nadine Labaki's eagerly awaited second feature is a hugely entertaining and frequently hilarious comedy with a witty script, inventive direction, a handful of enjoyable musical numbers and terrific comic performances from a superb ensemble cast.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Nadine Labaki (Caramel), Where Do We Go Now? is set in an unnamed, remote Middle Eastern village where a community of Christians and Muslims live peacefully, side by side, having each lost loved ones to a previous conflict. However, when news of escalating religious violence in the region threatens to filter through to the village, the women on both sides come up with increasingly inventive ways to distract their menfolk in order to prevent the violence from flaring up again.
Labaki has assembled a terrific ensemble cast that includes both professionals and local villagers and the performances are excellent Stand-outs include Yvonne Maalouf (as the Mayor's wife Yvonne, who hilariously fakes a religious vision but can't resist using it to take a pop at some of her neighbours), Claude Baz Moussawbaa (heart-breaking as a bereaved mother attempting to hide the death of her son in an accidental shooting), Leyla Hakim (as quick-witted neighbour Afaf) and Labaki herself as drop-dead gorgeous Amale, whose cafe forms a central part of the community.
The musical numbers (featuring original songs by Khaled Mouzanar) are nicely handled and cleverly serve to highlight the fact that this is essentially a fantasy; indeed the film sets out its stall from the opening scene as a weeping funeral procession gradually evolves into a subtly choreographed dance routine. Similarly, Labaki's light-hearted approach effectively delivers its serious underlying message without ever becoming preachy or sentimental.
Labaki's control of her material is extremely impressive, particularly given the sheer number of characters all shouting to be heard. She also gets the tone exactly right, maintaining a tricky balance between comedy and tragedy throughout, to powerfully moving effect.
On top of that, the witty script is packed full of great lines and there are several wonderful sequences. Highlights include: a plan involving a bus-load of exotic dancers (all Russian) whose bus “accidentally” breaks down forcing them to stay with the villagers for a few days; a musical number about hashish; and a blackly comic running joke about a beloved goat and a landmine.
Impressively directed and superbly written, Where Do We Go Now? is a thoroughly enjoyable comic fantasy that's both emotionally engaging and laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended.