Where Do We Go Now?: Lebanese Director Nadine Labaki’s Audience Award at 2011 Toronto Film Fest

(Lebanese-French-Egyptian)

A chick flick from Lebanon, “Caramel,” was the impressive feature directorial debut of Nadine Labaki, who previously had made some commercials and music videos.

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Born in war-torn Lebanon, Labaki is a multi-hyphenate talent: writer, director, actor.  After graduating from Beirut’s Saint Joseph University, she made the short, “11 Rue Pasteur,” in 1997.

Her second feature, “Where Do We Go Now?” a Lebanese-French-Egyptian production, premiered at the 2011Toronto Film Fest (in the Special Presentation section), where it won the most coveted kudo: the audience choice of most popular feature (out of over 300 selections).

Since not many Lebanese pictures are being made, let alone by women and about women, “Where Do We Go Now?”  just as “Caramel” before it, should travel the festival road and perhaps get limited theatrical distribution.

As I noted earlier, any film that gets made in Lebanon these days should be celebrated, considering the political state of the country and its struggling film industry.

The first image of the tale, co-written by Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily, and Rodney Al Haddad, is somber and resonant.  We watch a funeral ceremony, on a dirty road, comprised on women carrying photos of men, marching towards the cemetery.  Once at the graveyard, religion plays a part and the Muslims and Christians part ways.

Following visual symmetry, the last image is set in the same place and depicts the same reality of those of the first one, with one exception: This time around the procession carries the coffin of a youngster.

The film’s most crucial scene emphasizes one the film’s central ideas—and the circularity of time and nature.  At the graveside, the crowd stops, then circles around, and stops again, while members raised the significant if rhetoric question, “Where Do We Go Now?

The story is set in a small Lebanese village in the countryside, which stands in for many other isolated places due to the landmines buried there and in the surrounding land.

We are led to believe that what we see has become a “routine” and daily occurrence of the long, bloody conflict, which has claimed so many lives, of the various parties fighting.  To describe this legacy as morbid is an understatement.

As a sophomore effort, “Where Do We Go Now?” is a stronger picture than “Caramel.” Imbued with timely message, the movie is grave but not depressing, grounded in a particular war political locale but not an agit-prop, and, remarkably, despite its solemn subject, it is not entirely devoid of humor and even comedic-satiric touches.