The old saying goes that if women ran the world, there would be no war. So it goes in Director Nadine Labaki’s disarming update of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata for the semi-modern Middle East, conjuring a remote Lebanese village where Muslims and Christians are so cut off from the modern world, they have no choice but to coexist in relative harmony—at least for a few semi-pleasant months at a time. Surrounded by landmines and still smarting from their losses in yet another dustup, the weary residents have managed to muster a delicate peace between churches and mosques, and even throw an interfaith shindig where everybody gets together for a rare glimpse at the town’s lone television set.
Alas, modern inventions ruin everything. The celebratory broadcast announces news of still more sectarian strife, and before long we’ve got neighbor versus neighbor choosing sides and starting fights, for no better reason than that everybody else is doing it.
This is where Labaki’s heroines, a diverse bunch of fed-up women who have buried too many husbands and sons over the years, finally spring into action. Burning newspapers, sabotaging TV and radio antennae—they’ll try anything to distract the sparring men-folk from following their territorial impulses into even more pointless bloodshed. These hot-tempered foolish boys are depicted as overgrown children, in constant need of diversions to keep them from killing one another. If that means their wives and mothers need to pool everybody’s savings and hire a group of Ukranian belly-dancers, or spike all the muffins with high-powered hash, so be it. Anything to keep from attending more funerals, right?
Where Do We Go Now? is a ramshackle curiosity of a film, poorly made and more admirable in intent than execution. The tone veers wildly from stark life-and-death drama to broad comedy, sometimes so jarringly within the space of a single scene that you’ll wonder if Labaki isn’t aiming to be the Lebanese Tyler Perry. The director co-stars as an incongruously glamorous Christian cafe owner, so smitten with her Muslim handyman that she even launches into a genuinely bizarre Bollywood-style musical number.
But what Where Do We Go Now? lacks in polish it almost makes up for with an earthy, optimistic outlook. Any movie that offers exotic dancers and recreational drugs as possible cures for religious genocidal impulses is all right with me.