Five years ago, Nadine Labaki achieved a considerable succés d'estime with her directing debut Caramel, an amiable but somewhat thin romantic comedy set in a hairdressing salon in post-war Beyrouth. Et maintenant, on va où? delves as deep into her homeland's troublesome conflicts as much as Caramel sidestepped them entirely, but is no leaden meditation on the cost of wars of religion; rather, Ms. Labaki extends her breezy, down-home style into this ensemble comedy that skewers the insanity of wars with a light touch, through a plot that owes both to Greek theatre and classic Italian comedy.

     In a remote Lebanese village mostly cut off from the world due to war (the absence of computers and cellphones suggesting the story's fable-like timelessness), the setting up of a TV aerial and consequent ratcheting up of tension reawakens religious conflict among the men. It's up to the women, fed up with the pointless mortality of a war that has already claimed too many males from the village, to try and stop them by whatever (often funny) means necessary - involving Russian whores, foodstuffs spiked with drugs or just plain treachery. A stronger, steadier effort than Caramel, Et maintenant, on va où? is visually more functional than inspired, not surprisingly since it's clear Ms. Labaki, also co-writing and acting, much prefers to focus on her actors and on the fluidity of their exchanges rather than on any great visual flourishes.

     Where the film is severely let down is by her insistance in interspersing musical numbers through the film, in an hommage to classic Arabic cinema; Ms. Labaki doesn't have the style to pull it off - excepting the stunningly choreographed, wordless opening where the women of the village visit the cemetery - and neither the subject nor the comedic treatment support it successfully. Instead, it's the director's excellent management of her ensemble cast and of its energy levels, working not only to their best advantages but also to the script's, that turn Et maintenant, on va où? into a charming, lively comedy that deals smartly with a difficult subject.

Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Layla Hakim, Nadine Labaki, Yvonne Maalouf, Antoinette Noufaily, Julien Farhat, Ali Haidar, Kevin Abboud, Petra Saghbini, Mostafa Al Sakka, Sasseen Kawzally, Caroline Labaki, Anjo Rihane, Mohammad Akil, Gisèle Smeden, Khalil Bou Khalil, Samir Awad, Ziad Abou Absi, Adel Karam, Oxana Chihane, Anneta Bousaleh, Olga Yerofyeyeva, Yulia Maroun, Oksana Beloglazova.
     Director, Nadine Labaki; screenplay, Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily, Rodney Al Haddad, with Thomas Bidegain; cinematography, Christophe Offenstein (colour, processing by The Postoffice, Quinta/LTC, widescreen); music, Khaled Mouzanar; lyrics, Tania Saleh; designer, Cynthia Zahar; costumes, Caroline Labaki; editor, Véronique Lange; producer, Anne-Dominique Toussaint (Films des Tournelles, Pathé, Films de Beyrouth, United Artistic Group, Chaocorp, France 2 Cinéma, Prima TV in association with the Doha Film Institute), France/Lebanon/Italy/Egypt, 2011, 102 minutes.
     Screened: DVD, Lisbon, April 15th 2012. 


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