Hala Louein (“Where Do We Go Now?”), the second feature film by director Nadine Labaki, is – despite its naïve nature – an enjoyable film. Much like her debut film “Caramel,” Labaki taps into the world of women to depict their feelings, fears and anxieties in chatty scenes that are not without frivolity, yet which nevertheless manage to have their sincere moments.
The film opens with a group of women walking together in synchronised movements wearing black to mourn their respective loved ones, with each holding up a picture of a lost son, brother or relative. In “Caramel,” Labaki closes the movie with a wonderfully picturesque shot; in her second film, it is the opening shot that is most captivating and best executed.
The film takes place against the backdrop of Lebanon’s brutal civil war, yet is set in a small village far from the outside world. The choice of the setting is perhaps one of the best things about the film, allowing for its unrealistic touch and its simple, allegorical narrative.
As in “Caramel,” “Where Do We Go Now?” features beautiful scenery and good cinematography, along with a soundtrack that enhances its general mood. The film’s editing is sometimes choppy, however, while some otherwise good shots aren’t given the time they deserve.
Group direction is one of Labaki’s strong points, and one of the most interesting scenes portrays a gathering of the townsfolk to watch television on a hill – the only place with satellite reception. As all the people, glued to the television set, are forced to watch the same channels – fighting over what to watch – accusations begin to surface.
The film provides a good depiction of a closed society, with its togetherness, gossip and everyday disputes between neighbours. In this small town, deeply impacted by the civil war, a number of local men have died while latent Muslim-Christian tensions quickly come to the fore after some unintentional incidents.
The women of the town, in fear of losing more loved ones, draw up a plan to prevent the men from killing one another in a series of episodes that alternate between comedy and drama. Just as events begin taking one direction, however, they immediately take another turn.
The film is saved from falling into melodrama by a touch of comedy, and from falling into ridiculousness by the women’s profound fear of losing their sons to the war.
While the somewhat frivolous dialogue can be overlooked for the sake of giving the conversation a realistic tone, the story nevertheless has many problems in terms of plot development and characters’ relationships with one another.
For example, no in-depth details are given to flesh out characters. Women are simply emotional creatures opposed to the violence, while men are depicted as hard-edged – and potentially violent – beings.
This isn’t the script’s biggest flaw, however, for the film is set more in allegorical terms and relationships between characters should have been given more depth. Bonds between women and their husbands – and those between the women themselves – remain somewhat hazy throughout.
Director Labaki plays Amal, who, at the beginning of the film, eyes a man and daydreams about dancing with him. The precise nature of the relationship, however, is never revealed and remains ambiguous. Until the end, this is neither developed nor diminished, making its presence in the film unimportant.
The relationships between the women are also somewhat confusing. In dialogue at the beginning of the film, Muslim women express their own prejudices against Christians, yet they nevertheless strive to stop the men from fighting.
The film also fails to provide a coherent progression of events or explain the precise nature of the strife between the village’s Muslim and Christian communities. The movie also fails to offer a convincing reason for the violence, and, ultimately, the women’s plan provides an all-too-easy way to conclude the film.
This naïve approach, however, might have been intentional, designed to induce a sense of idealism and wishful thinking – the creation of a world inside a detached village does allow for a measure of unrealism.
Along with director Labaki, the film also features actors Claude Baz Moussawbaa and Leyla Hakim.
The film won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Oslo Film Festival. It was also honoured at the prestigious San Sebastián International Film Festival.
“Where Do We Go Now?” is currently playing at the Renaissance Nile City Cinema, the Geneina Mall and the Bandar Cinema.