WHERE DO WE GO NOW? – The Review

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It’s always an added pleasure when a film throws you a curve ball and catches you be surprise. I went into WHERE DO WE GO NOW? only knowing that it was a foreign film. When it began, the  film makers dissolved in on a desolate, barren, rocky landscape. A group of black-clad women walked in unison toward the camera. Each were carrying a framed photo. Okay, here’s another movie about the troubles in the Middle East. I’d lost track off all the films I had seen last year concerning the conflicts and tragedies. And then the women began to bow and lean back, almost as one. Are they… dancing? A bit later two characters exchanged longing glances… and began singing! Well, how about that? This is a musical. A musical about religious conflict in Lebanon. As John Cleese used to say, “And now for something completely different…”

In many sequences, WHERE DO WE GO NOW? is indeed a musical comedy. It’s set in a very remote village, almost inaccessible because of a dangerous bridge over a steep gorge. Television reception is only available on the town’s highest point with endless yards of extension cords. The other link to the outside world is two teenage entrepreneurs who venture to nearby cities on a scooter with a small trailer hitch in order to get supplies via purchase and trade. Anytime the boys bring back a newspaper, the women read them quickly then burn them. Seems the village is almost a 50/50 split between Muslims and Christians. The ladies, headed by the young, widowed mother who owns the cafe (played by co-writer and director Nadine Labaki), want to keep the news about religious conflicts and battles hidden from the menfolk (they’re barely getting along as it is). With the help of the two church leaders, the women try to keep the peace, even arranging to have a  busload of Russian exotic dancers break down and have to stay in the town while their transport is fixed. Later when outside forces claim one of the villagers, the women take drastic steps to prevent a possible bloodbath.

Sounds like a pretty serious backdrop for music numbers. For the most part it is, although most of the problems boil down to one thing: the women can keep their cool and work together to prevent the violent, childish men from destroying everything. The guys are little balls of anger or human nitro and ancient dynamite sticks ready to explode at the slightest vibrations. Like those unstable items, they have too be kept in the dark. It’s reminiscent of classic cartoon shorts: the cat’s gotta’ keep quiet so the fearsome bulldog doesn’t wake up and bash him. In this way the film veers into sitcom territory. And the final solution the ladies cook up to avoid all-out work seems flippant and rings  completely false. Plus none of the tunes are real showstoppers (perhaps they work better in the native language). After an interesting set-up, WHERE DO WE GO NOW? reduces complex issues into a cliched battle of the sexes (woman smart and calm, men dumb and violent). Don’t hold your breath for the Broadway stage adaptation.

Overall Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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