- First and
foremost, I loved the music and the songs, although one of the songs has
exactly the same tune of a known pasta ad.
- I liked the scenes and the scenery as well as the acting of most of the characters (especially Adel Karam and Mohamad Akil). The film cost 6.7 million Dollars, and you expect to get something good out of that, well we did, but the flaws of the film come from something that requires no budget: thinking.
- Another strong positive element is the script. The script is
well done which is rare in the recent Lebanese production (you need to put West
Beirut, Zozo, and a few other movies on the side). Finally, here is a Lebanese
film where actors don't wait for one another to finish their lines (while staring
in the void, usually angry), they speak at different tones sometimes
interrupting each other, and there is a background noise, or the natural ambiance;
where the dialogue is convincing and mirrors reality, and where not all the characters
are poets, well articulate, and speak fluent and plausible full Arabic
sentences. For that we need to give the film some credit.
characters, especially the women, also come from real life which makes us
identify a lot with them because we have all seen or known at some point or
another a relative or a neighbor exactly like that. Here comes the but. But,
the characters too have many flaws; Nadine Labaki, although she states that she
is not the main character, is the only character that has a story on the side,
her love story, all we know about the other women is their religion. I also
noticed, and I doubt that was done on purpose, that we know a bit more about
two other Christian women, one is the wife of the Mokhtar (mayor) who is the
comic relief, and the other is the strong and resilient woman head of household
who sends her two sons to sell stuff outside the village. We know nothing about
the other women, and the Muslim women don't have any special character traits.
I am not saying there should have been a kind of balance, but I am saying that
many of the characters, she calls main, are not so well developed. Nadine did
not seem so good in handling a multi cast here.
- It goes
without saying that the characters should be multi-dimensional unlike Marwan Najjar’s
characters who are either good or evil. I will be subtle in judging the
characters against this rule in this film, since it is intended on purpose to
make all the women good and all the men bad, although I don’t see the morale
behind it in the Lebanese context.
- We come to
the story, it is entertaining as a sequence of funny or unusual situations, but
as a plot, it lacks all the main ingredients, there is no build up towards the
climax, there are merely detached incidents that lead to tension. The climax
you assume is when the boy who makes a journey outside the village is
killed mysteriously by a random bullet by some "strangers",
and this is a point I will come to in a while. This climax has nothing to do
with the incidents that preceded it, it descended to the movie like a parachute
to claim itself a climax. Of course it adds to the sectarian tension in the
village, but was not a result of it or its cause, so the climax in the movie is
a mere tragic coincidence. Shortly before the climax, I started to feel bored,
because we have already gotten the point, the whole point: the women are trying
to prevent the men from fighting or going to war using tricks, so you would
only be there waiting to see what other ruses they are going to use now, then
the boy dies, as we said for reasons outside the main plot and none of the
characters have anything to do with it. This climax is supposed to be the
crisis, yet, the crisis (the tension between the Christian and the Muslim men)
is already there, so the climax here only takes the conflict to another level
(the men seeking to dig out their buried weapons). Again, the women should
prevent that from happening, then comes another ruse, and they succeed. Yet the
movie does not end here.
- The finale or
the resolution of the crisis parachutes again and does not seem to come neither
from the climax nor from an attempt to solve it. The film also closes with an
open question: where do we go now, the title of the film. I do like open-ended
endings, but only because they leave you with the question whirling in your
head, only because it gets you thinking about it after you leave the theater. The
question is supposed to intrigue you and make you reassess
your reasoning or open a new dimension or a new perspective in your previous way of thinking. This
question does not.
- The film,
according to the director, is symbolic and has a strong message. No doubt the direct message is clear; the film calls for coexistence between the Christians and the
Muslims. Did she really think that people will leave the theater, thinking: let us ask if the guy who was sitting next to us is from a different religion and if he is, let’s go give him a hug? Maybe the director was well-intentioned but the message is naive to say the least; it falls into the same lame Lebanese rhetoric which Ziad Rahbani
smartly ridicules. The causes of the conflict always come from “the
stranger” who stole the jar, or from factors outside our control, or from third
parties. We know that it wasn't a Muslim who broke the cross at the church and we do not know who ransacked the mosque. So the villagers are all pure and innocent and only reacted to these incidents!? (by naturally seeking revenge because they are men?) yet if you leave the Lebanese on their own they would be living in love and peace (butter and honey as we say in Arabic)?!. So there are no root causes or
intrinsic factors to sectarianism? Well, wars are ugly and civil wars are the ugliest, but the hidden message of the film is this: for the Lebanese to avoid wars they should stay isolated lest miseries befall them from outside. First this is called denial, and second,
this message of denial is not original. The problem dates back to the Rahbani
brothers and their quiet and peaceful (imaginary) village like the village
portrayed by Labaki, and their Lebanese virgin girl who represents everything
that is good, of course here it is none other than Nadine Labaki herself, who
is so egocentric that she is the director, the main character, and the one who
gets to make the “wise“ monologue (a stupid one), and gets to star in the poster
campaign and makes an extra effort to look nice and sweet in all the scenes
(although I do find her beautiful). Of course there is also the typical idiot
of the village. Where is the innovation and creativity? The film, as a tragicomedy, had all the elements of success, but the message itself was tragicomic; it lacks both originality and depth; It addresses the deeply rooted and real problem of sectarianism in Lebanon through a very shallow interpretation. The Rahbani brothers
seem to have irreversibly ruined our creative thinking.
- Again unlike Marwan Najjar's productions where the characters have names that intentionally hide their religion (so as to protect us, the audience, from our own sectarian judgement, and of course because the characters are either bad or good so he cannot make any reference to their sect, and also where the characters call each other by their full names even if they are brothers, for example you might hear a father say to his son with astonishment: Amer Bilal! what are you doing in our house?), luckily we don't see this in Nadine Labaki's film, well, for obvious reasons. Belief is part of one's character, logic, and sometimes identity such as in this film, but why are all the characters believers; all the Christians in the film
wear a cross and all the Muslim women wear a Hijab. I understand if that is intended to
make it easy for us to better understand who’s Christian and who’s Muslim, but none of
the characters are secular or non-believers! And we could really make it on our
own without this straightforwardness, same as we did with the men, really, aren't we Lebanese genius, then why do you underestimate our intelligence?
- Finally, I do understand why the film would get such a high rating and wide acclaim in the West, simply because it reinforces all the stereotypes they have about us.