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Friday, June 29, 2012 - Page updated at 03:00 p.m.
'Where Do We Go Now?' balances comedy and poignant drama
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
Nadine Labaki's new film begins with a poem recited by a group of black-clad women, walking in rhythm. Their story, about "two clans with broken hearts, under a burning sun," sets the stage for the film. In an isolated village in the Lebanese countryside, Muslims and Christians live side-by-side, but not always peacefully. A recent conflict, we're told, has been overcome, and neighbors — including a priest and an imam — gather to watch a movie on a precariously rigged outdoor TV. But the new calm is uneasy, and the village's women soon gather, wondering how to protect their families from more violence.
Labaki, in her second film (her first was the bittersweet romantic comedy "Caramel," released in 2007), maintains a careful balance of comedy, music and poignant drama. The women's schemes are at first cartoonish: They hire a crew of Ukrainian casino dancers to distract the husbands — the dancers express languorous shock, upon arriving, at their humble surroundings — then later bake up treats laced with hashish. But when a young man is killed — he just "took a wrong turn on the way home," says his grieving friend — the story turns darker and heartbreaking. We see a mother carefully tidying her dead son's room, leaving the light on — both to hide the death from her friends and, perhaps, in the desperate hope that he might come home again. A statue weeps blood; the amber sunlight plays on a graveyard, populated with photographs of young men, quietly sparkling in frames of chipped glass.
"Where Do We Go Now?" won the top award at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival last year, no doubt for Labaki's confident creativity in the film's ever-shifting tones — and for the conspiratorial mood it instills in its viewers. This spirited troupe of women (both professional and nonprofessional actors, led by Labaki herself) makes us citizens of the village, invested in their joys and fears. We grieve with them, under that burning sun, and hope with them for a lasting peace.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
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