A version of this review appeared in The Age, June 28, 2012.
Famously, in the Aristophanes comedy Lysistrata the women of ancient Greece end a war by calling a sex strike. Riffing on this tradition of feminist intervention, the new film from Lebanese writer-director Nadine Labaki suggests that peace in the Middle East might be achieved through a series of comparably zany schemes. The setting is a remote village where Christians and Muslims have long lived side by side. When tensions flare up among the men, the women set out to distract them with everything from exotic dancers to a fake miracle.
The action centres on a cafe run by Amale, a Christian widow played by Labaki herself as easily the most elegant person in town. As a filmmaker, Labaki has a similar kind of self-assurance, enabling her to slide into unexpected musical numbers or blend comedy and tragedy without fuss. Her widescreen images are filled with lively everyday activity – excited teenagers gathering round a boombox, or sheep invading the local mosque. A typical cafe scene will show us half-a-dozen women clustered in the foreground, while the men play cards and smoke, a hunky Muslim handyman (Julien Farhat) scrubs the walls, and Amale wipes glasses at the bar.
As a feelgood fable, Where Do We Go Now? is quaint but effective. There's a certain bite to the implication that the gap which separates the genders is wider than the one between faiths. Still, the notion that men have a monopoly on prejudice seems optimistic if not downright glib.