As tension rises in a small, secluded Lebanese village, the Christian and Muslim men of the town sit glued to a single television. As the reception flickers in and out, they watch and wait patiently for news from the outside world. They wait for reports of increased hostilities between their peoples. They wait for headlines about skirmishes and violent attacks. They wait for the rest of the country to tell them that they're enemies. They wait… for an excuse. But while the men remain trigger happy and quick to aggression, the women have an entirely different perspective. Armed only with their wits and compassion, they aim to ease the pain and anger that surrounds them. A modern day parable about the irrationality of violent conflict, 'Where Do We Go Now?' presents a deceptively simple examination of some very complicated issues. With an odd blend of heartbreaking tragedy and whimsical comedy, the film reveals the inherent absurdities of war, bloodshed, and religious intolerance.
Set in an anonymous village in Lebanon, the story focuses on the precarious peace between the town's Muslim and Christian population. As hostilities increase, the women of the city, both Christian and Muslim alike, join together to mitigate the violence. Through a series of simple and elaborate plots, they attempt to distract the men from the country's escalating religious wars. While their silly and ingenious schemes seem to work for a time, a sudden tragedy strikes the village, potentially destroying the fragile truce that the women have worked so hard to maintain.
We initially follow the everyday life of the villagers, getting a general sense for their community. At first, their strife seems quite innocuous with only minor squabbles, arguments, and town gossip, but after a series of vandalisms (or possible misunderstandings), things take a turn for the worst. The women's various attempts to placate the aggression are quite amusing, and the ensemble of female performers (who are mostly nonprofessional actresses) are full of personality, and share great chemistry together.
They try everything to keep their husbands and sons from fighting, including sabotaging a television, and inviting a gang of Ukrainian dancers to the town (proving that all it takes to distract a man is a nice pair of "yabos"). These silly shenanigans are all very entertaining, and work to form an episodic plot that slowly builds toward an interesting climax. As funny as the actresses can be, there is also a palpable sense of loss in their characters, and this level of deep pathos can be absolutely devastating. Their frustration over needlessly spilt blood rings true, and the director successfully rallies together an inspiring and hopeful voice for future peace.
From its opening scene, which features a moody voice over followed by a shot of mourning women solemnly dancing toward a cemetery, the film instantly sets the tone for the strange, storybook blend of drama and whimsy that follows. Director Nadine Labaki manages to create an almost fairy tale like atmosphere, while still maintaining a very realistic emotional core. A quirky sense of humor permeates the work, adding a lighthearted air to the otherwise dreary subject matter. Brief detours into musical fantasy are even offered, including a scene in which the unrealized romance of two star-crossed lovers is interpreted through song and dance.
Despite the film's occasional excursions into musical metaphor and humorous fancy, much of the runtime ends up focusing on the real consequences of religious turmoil, and the filmmakers tackle the resulting tragedies head on. There are several scenes that are truly affecting and heartbreaking, completely eschewing fantasy for stark, cold reality. This seemingly incompatible fusion of tones somehow works, and it's a true testament to Labaki's directing skills that the film is able to balance the comedy and drama so well. The erratic dance between happiness and horror has sadly become commonplace for these characters, and the movie's tone mirrors that fact brilliantly.
Without giving too much away, the film's conclusion might be a little too "cute" for its own good, and if taken at face value the women's ultimate solution to their problems presents a pretty large simplification of some very complex matters. Likewise, some might find the idea that women are somehow above religious fighting while the men are so quick to aggression, to be disingenuous. With that said, the director actually addresses these potential criticisms in the included special features, and her defense is strong. The movie's goal is not to offer a totally realistic examination of or answer to religious conflict, and instead the story is meant to work as a universal allegory and parable. In that sense, the ending is not only perfectly fitting, but also quite fascinating in its own right. It has a wonderful storybook quality and the final image is a stirring summation of everything the filmmakers are trying to say while offering a hopeful but ambiguous look toward the future.
'Where Do We Go Now?' is a film about mothers and wives who are tired of senseless death… tired of burying their husbands and sons. United together, Muslim and Christian women attempt to ease the violence in their village. They attempt to make their men forget one simple falsehood -- that they're "supposed" to be enemies. A funny and tragic parable about the absurdity of religious division and conflict, the movie's plot is simple, but its themes are deep and affecting. Through a mixture of realistic drama and a more fantastical sense of humor, the filmmakers come away with a unique and thought provoking experience. It may not have truly lasting answers or solutions, but it certainly asks the right questions.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony brings 'Where Do We Go Now?' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc packaged in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Despite one minor issue, this is a very pleasing and authentic transfer.
Shot digitally in high definition, the source has a light sheen of grain-like noise throughout. In fact, while I can usually immediately tell if a movie was shot on digital video, here the picture actually has a surprisingly filmic appearance. Clarity is good, revealing small details in the village, characters, and wardrobe. With that said, the image can have a fairly flat appearance. Colors are muted, with the video having a predominantly beige and yellow cast, but certain hues do pop with pleasing vibrancy, reinforcing the periodically whimsical tone. Whites are bright, but black levels are unfortunately elevated. This leads to an occasionally washed out and faded look that does slightly hamper the overall picture.
The film isn't a real stunner, but the digital photography looks quite nice throughout. Though colors are intentionally subdued and the light black levels do lead to a washed out appearance in a few scenes, the transfer is mostly pleasing and seemingly authentic.
The audio is presented in an Arabic DTS-HD MA 5.0 track with optional English subtitles. Though mostly front loaded, this is a solid track that enhances the mood and tone of the visuals well.
Dialogue is crisp and full throughout. The soundstage is delicate but spacious, with a nice sense of ambiance. Blowing wind, chirping birds, crickets, and other nature effects hit the surrounds, enhancing the atmosphere of scenes. The music carries great fidelity and is spread nicely around the room. With that said, long stretches of the film are primarily front loaded, and while quiet and modest, the sound design is balanced well and suits the material. Despite the lack of a dedicated low frequency channel, there is some decent bass activity, particularly in a deep drum beat that's carried in some of the music cues.
'Where Do We Go Now?' isn't a real audio standout, but the mix features a subtle sense of auditory texture, and a great score, that all add character to the story.
Sony has provided a nice set of supplements, including a commentary and making of. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound (unless noted otherwise).
'Where Do We Go Now' is a contemporary parable about the absurdity of religious conflict and the tragedy of needless violence. Though elements of the plot might be a little simplistic, the storybook tone works well and the film's hopeful message is stirring. The video and audio are both very solid with no major issues. The included commentary and featurettes offer some interesting production trivia and behind-the-scenes footage. The film itself is great, and thankfully, Sony has put together a very nice disc. Recommended.