Civil wars

Lebanese import Where Do We Go Now? is crippled by silliness.

Where Do We Go Now? is the gimp little sibling of the Academy Award-winning Iranian powerhouse A Separation. Hear me out: Both films are Middle Eastern import that pull the viewer into the heart of civil strife with political overtones, with both films using what we already know about the historical and current violence in the Eastern world as a counterpoint to the action of the movie. In terms of quality, however, there is a wide gulf between the films.

Where Do We Go Now?

is a droll little movie about an isolated, naive village in Lebanon shared by Christians and Muslims. When news of their country's growing religious tension reaches the village, the citizens don't know whether to be swept up in the turmoil or to just carry on peacefully.

As small tiffs erupt over what to watch on the single village television and who accidentally (or purposely) let goats into the local mosque, events are quickly filtered through a new, sinister sieve of Christian-Muslim conflict. Small controversies that would usually be settled with a handshake and some self-deprecation now balloon into threats of armed combat.

Director Nadine Labaki wasn't just being cute when she settled on Where Do We Go Now? as a title; it’s also a suitable description of the plot. The women villagers contend that all the anger and heated debate between their militant husbands is selfishness that always ends the same: with wives left to mourn their losses. As such, they come to an agreement that they will drug all the men and then convert to the opposing religion, so that when the men wake up and want to start killing members of the opposite faith, they’ll have to start with their wives. Or, as a converted Christian wife says to her drowsy Muslim husband: "You live with the enemy now."

Ample screen time is also paid to the most beautiful woman of the village (her name unimportant) and her burgeoning love affair with a man helping her refurbish her quaint tavern. And amidst all this heady, heart-tugging gibberish … the characters break into song. On three occasions they chant, belt and beckon, providing a strange and laughable Greek chorus to what is an already confusing turn of events.

I admire the warmth and good intentions of Where Do We Go Now? The subject of faith-related turmoil is never reduced to the kind of simple grandstanding that might be found in an American film, and the filmmakers never treat their subject as too important to be quietly made fun of. But Labaki and company have ultimately confused silliness with audacity, and it’s a shame that no one was there to stop their indulgences from getting the best of them.