Nadine Labaki’s New Movie: Where Do We Go Now (W Halla2 Lawein) – Review

Lebanese cinematic talent has not been given much room to grow. In a country where art is the least concern, cinema has found it especially hard to take off. However, a stream of Lebanese movies has been finding its way to our theaters. Some like Nadine Labaki’s previous movie, Caramel, were a huge hit with viewers. Others were not as lucky.

But the fact remains that the Lebanese audience is hungry for movies that describe its society, its problems, its worries and woes.

And then comes Nadine Labaki’s new movie: Where Do We Go Now, with its Lebanese title: W Halla2 La wein (also in French: Et Maintenant, On Va Ou?)

The premise of the movie is quite simple – and for many Lebanese, worry-inducing for fear of overuse of cliches. The overall basis of the plot is the coexistence of Lebanese Muslims and Christians in one community, sometimes peacefully and other times not. Many, like yours truly, felt the issue was overdone. Maybe not in cinema but in everyday life. Most of us are sick of being bombarded with commentary about the struggles that face our very diverse community. But this is not the case in Where Do We Go Now.

An unnamed village during the later part of the 20th century has its only connection with the outside world in the form of a very rudimentary bridge, around which landmines had been planted and never removed. Even TV reception is very poor to the village and the movie begins with a few youngsters searching for a broadcast signal to set up a TV night for the town-folks. This village is also a religiously divided community where the Church and the Mosque are only a house apart. And more often than not, the people live together happily.

But as it is, and despite barely having any access to news from the outside world, the men of this village start to confront each other in violent ways. Little things that would pass unnoticed cause them to explode, signaling the anger they’ve been bottling in. And it is then that the few women of the village start to devise plots to keep the men busy, entertained and get their minds off being violent. These plans will vary from fake miracles to putting hashish in cakes. But these women will go to every measure possible and break every limit imposed on them by society to keep their town together. And it is for these women, representing a vast majority of our Lebanese mothers, that this movie is so aptly dedicated.

Nadine Labaki, director of the movie and starring as Amal, is astonishing as always. You, really, cannot see her eyes on screen and not be mesmerized. She’s simply entrancing, even when she doesn’t speak. Then how about when she delivers a tour de force performance as one of those women, who happens to be in love with a man from the town’s other religion. But to be perfectly honest, the accolades one ought to give Labaki are not for her acting but for her directing. Never have I imagined a Lebanese movie can turn out this good and she makes it seem effortless. Her camera shots, her focus on details, her keen eye… all of this combine to give you a cinematic experience that will entrance you.

This movie, like Caramel, features mostly unknown faces and all of them deliver as well. It is hard to believe – and yet in retrospect so evident – that such acting can come out of common people that we all meet on the street. Where Do We Go Now is a movie of such epic proportions that these “unknown” actors and actresses (mostly actresses) deliver performances that are so subtly nuanced, so exquisitely flavored and so astonishingly well-done that they would put the best actresses and actors of Hollywood to shame. Yes, I have said it.

The score of the movie is chilling and haunting and wonderfully executed by Nadine’s husband Khaled Mouzanar. The movie also features a few highly intelligent songs, written by Tania Saleh.

And let’s talk about the script. What an ingenious way to tackle the subject at hand. Not only did Nadine Labaki not fall to any cliche known to us as a Lebanese community, but she managed to introduce them in a subtle comical way that would make us laugh at ourselves for uttering or doing them in the first place. The script is so strong it will turn you bipolar. Yes, lithium is advised to be taken at the door while going in. Why? Never have I laughed so hysterically one moment and just wanted to cry the other. And then after being utterly devastated, it brings you back to laughter. The movie plays with you like a ping pong ball. And you cannot but love every moment of it.

I was talking to my friend Elia the day before we went to watch Where Do We Go Now, which happened to be the day it won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, and she said: “Elie, I’m very cautiously optimistic about this. I’m not letting my expectations overreach because I don’t want to be disappointed.” Well, I’m pretty sure Elia agrees with me on this: Where Do We Go Now brings out things in you that you didn’t even know you had. It brings out the best in you, as a Lebanese, sitting in that cinema chair for ninety minutes. And you need the best of the best to do that. Nadine Labaki, you deserve more than the few minutes of applause the people in the movie theater gave you. You deserve a full blown standing ovation. You have done the impossible. Again. Lebanese cinema has no excuse but to overreach for excellence now. And this movie deserves an Oscar win. Cheers to our mothers.

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Where Do We Go Now? – New Nadine Labaki Lebanese Movie

Brilliant Lebanese director/actress Nadine Labaki is set to debut her new movie, Where Do We Go Now? (و هلّأ لوين؟) at Cannes this week. And it is starting off to good reviews.

After the 2007 hit Caramel, Labaki returns with another movie she’s directing. Set in a religiously mixed village, the movie is about a group of people trying to preserve their town in the midst of inter-religious tension. The town’s location is never mentioned, probably wanting to make the movie apply to anywhere in the Middle East where you have diversity.

Labaki has said about the movie, “It’s not a story about war; on the contrary, it’s about how to avoid war. You can’t live in Lebanon without feeling this threat, which ends up coloring what we do and our ways of expression.”

I think the topic looks like a typical Lebanese storyline, sort of like Caramel, which should make the movie quite relatable. And after all, Nadine Labaki is a very good director so I believe she will pull it off. Will this be as big as Caramel, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Check out a scene from the movie:

Check out my review of Where Do We Go Now.

The Church Explosion Derivation

On Sunday morning, an explosion rocked the Syriac church of Saydit Al Najat (Our Lady of Salvation) in Zahle. Every Lebanese official denounced the explosion, naturally, as a barbaric act, against the “example” of coexistence that is Lebanon, bla bla bla.

Now let us start our derivation of who is responsible for this attack.

Naturally, it can’t be a non-Lebanese because most Lebanese barely know of the existence of the targeted sect, let alone those who are foreigners and don’t know Lebanon has Maronites or any other major Christian sect to begin with.

Now that the non-Lebanese people have been taken out of the equation, this leaves us with those who hold the beloved and cherished citizenship. Of those, say 50% are Muslims and 50% are Christians. Now since we’d like to be optimistic, let us assume that our fellow Muslims would not do such a thing because it would break this example of coexistence.

Of the remaining 50% of Christians, no one would act except upon an act issued by their correspondent political leader. You have a bunch of irrelevant leaders who can’t get their followers to hurt a fly and then you have the big quartet.

Michel Aoun was probably still sleeping, long dreaming about him being Lebanon’s president, a dream that doesn’t seem to let him go. Add to that the fact that his supporters don’t know what a bomb is and you rule him out of the equation as well.

Sleiman Frangieh’s followers know very well what a bomb is. But Zahle is just too far away from his radar that you can’t make him a serious contender for the top prize. Add to it him being clueless most of the time and you definitely take his name off the list.

Amin Gemayel was still probably mourning his son. Or in the midst of the conversation that started on Friday evening. Either way, I don’t see him as someone who would issue the bombing as well.

Samir Geagea, however, *evil smile*, this man can definitely blow up a church. I mean, out of the whole bunch of politicians today, he is the only criminal, right? And he has blown up a church before. Granted, he was exonerated, but he did blow it up, no? His party is also made up of a bunch of high school dropouts who don’t know how to write their names, so naturally, they know how to handle bombs. Also, as a wise person from Bsharri would say: If Geagea thinks a church needs to be blown up, then the church needs to be blown up.

Meanwhile, the seven Estonians are still missing. Telecom minister Charbel Nahas is still in his cat-fight with Ogero CEO, Abdel Menhem, and the country is more prosperous than ever. Some Lebanese stupidheads took the headlines with their pro-Syria protests… why would anyone care about a silly Church getting blown up?

PS: In case you didn’t notice, let me hashtag it for you: #sarcasm.

The Aoun Paradox

Michel Aoun

You should know by now that I’m as close to a supporter of FPM leader Michel Aoun as there is hope to explain the Holy Trinity.

Even though I’m not closely following Lebanese politics lately, I was surprised when Mr. Aoun came out of his parliament bloc’s meeting, attacking the Lebanese president left and right.

I remembered how almost two years ago, he was defending this president, saying that we need to give him more rights to fortify the role he – the representative of Maronites – has.

I’m all for increasing the administrative powers of the Lebanese president. If you ask me, the Taef agreement took too much away for the president to be of any essential need to the country. The president is more than a referee and more powers would allow him to assert his role more.

This change in stance got me thinking once again.

The most obvious paradox Mr. Aoun has had was his Syria stance. Back in 2005 and before, he openly declared his opposition to the Syrian regime, accusing it of even killing Prime Minister Hariri. Fast-forward a few months and this totally changes… a year later, he is visiting the Syrian president as a guest of honor. What’s even worse, I remember how a guy by the name “Jamil El Sayyed” used to creep everyone out. The ruthless man to whom the disappearance of many activists against the Syrian regime was staunchly opposed by Mr. Aoun. Up until very recently, of course, where they have become allies.

Mr. Aoun tries to defend his shift in opinion by saying we were “too harsh” to Syria in the first place. Personally, I don’t have anything against Syria as a country and people. However, I know way too many people who died trying to defend the country against the Syrian regime, which was trying to get Lebanon to become an unofficial Syrian province. Too many people who support Aoun as well gave everything they had to protect Lebanon against the Syrian regime. Is Aoun’s opinion shift justified by the argument he gave? Not even close. The main reason he switched sides? Hariri did not agree to allocate to him the Christian seats he was asking in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

What I believe Mr. Aoun is trying to achieve by this change in stance is a sort of coalition of regional minorities, believing that this is the best way to protect Lebanese Christians – and regardless of what he might say, Aoun is a sectarian person. By uniting a portion of Christians, the vast majority of the Shiites and now a big portion of the Druze population in Lebanon with the ruling Alawites in Syria, he believes that this would create the best front to fight the almighty regional devil: The growing Sunni influence.
What Mr. Aoun does not remember, however, is that Mr. Assad, the Syrian president, while being “kind” to his own people, will not offer anything close to that to the Lebanese Christians, as history has already taught us. Moreover, to think that someone like Hassan Nasrallah has had a serious paradigm shift since the days of him thinking Christians were “invadors to Muslim areas”, then Mr. Aoun becomes seriously delusional.

Which brings me back to the point I first mentioned: presidency. It has become Aoun’s lifetime dream to become the Lebanese president. When he saw this dream will not happen in his previous alliances, he simply switched it. Anything for the cause, right?

Aoun also believes in “change and reform”. He believes it is the way forward for the country. And it most definitely is. However, almost nothing he has done so far really signals “change and reform” and yet he preaches about it wherever he goes. It’s like a prostitute claiming virginity. Charbel Nahhas, current minister of telecommunications, even tried to ban Skype!
Part of his “change and reform” ideology is to eradicate the idea of feudalism from Lebanese politics: No more to the son inheriting his dad’s legacy and going forward with it, etc.
Aoun has no sons. He has, however, son in laws to whom he is passing down the mantle. His nephew is a parliament member in his bloc, his other son in law is head of his TV station and his daughter is head of his political bureau. I believe with all of this, it seems that the concept of feudalism has escaped Mr. Aoun.

So this is our paradox. This is a man who believes he is allowed of cursing whoever he wants, take his followers wherever he pleases and still believe he is correct in everything he does.
I blame Mr. Aoun’s followers… they seem to have forgotten why they became supporters of him in the first place. They seem to have forgotten the shared values they have with the movements they are cursing today. And for that reason, they are demoted from the a supporter to a follower. I have many friends who are FPM supporters. Some of them still are, others have seen a change in the man they once supported – one they do not approve anymore. Many of those supporters have been imprisoned, tortured, beaten down just because they had the courage to speak up. To those supporters, we can only be grateful. Supporters are critical.Followers simply follow.

Mr. Aoun switched sides in 2005, ruining everything his supporters and other free men of the country had tried to achieve for 15 years: true independence. The historical March 14, 2005 protest set the bar high for freedom fighters in the region. More than half of the Lebanese population had gone down to the streets to reclaim their country. And just because this man’s greed saw it fit, he decided that the spilled blood, the ruined prides, the oppressed freedoms were not enough to continue this movement to the end. I can only imagine where we would have been right now had Aoun remained somewhat sane in 2005. We would have brought Lahoud down, elected a president that represented us all – maybe Mr. Aoun even – and worked for the past six years of letting this country become one that we all deserve.
Apparently not. And why’s that? Because one man’s delusion is another country’s dark ages.