For those of you who don’t know about the pilgrimage spot for all cinephiles on Long Island, I’ll let you in on the secret. Tucked away behind the YMCA on Park Avenue, sits the Huntington Cinema Arts Centre. It’s a squat building, pretty nondescript, and its parking lot is always full. It’s the only movie theatre on Long Island (that I know of, at least) that shows only independent and foreign movies all hand picked by the staff, and never a disappointment. I’ve never seen a movie that I didn’t enjoy there. Really.
This past weekend, my husband told me that a Lebanese movie entitled Where Do We Go Now?, directed by the wonderful Nadine Labaki, was playing at Cinema Arts. “You’re really going to like this one,” he told me, albeit while rolling his eyes. Let me get this out of the way: I have a passion for well-done Arab cinema, particularly Lebanese films. And this was a Labaki film, the same woman who wrote and directed the critically acclaimed movie Caramel. I practically dragged him out the door. And, once again, I was not disappointed.
Where Do We Go Now? (in Arabic, W Halla2 La wein?) is possibly one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. It tells the story of a small, isolated Lebanese village during the latter part of the 20th century, where half of the villagers are Christian and the other half are Muslim. They appear to live in harmony and the movie spends some time showing the flirtations between a beautiful woman, played by Labaki, and a Muslim man. It won’t be a problem, the villagers advise her. Either he has to convert or you do. No big deal.
A cemetery located just outside of the village, where the women make weekly pilgrimages to visit the graves of their sons and husbands, overshadows this apparent harmony. Muslim graves are on one side of the cemetery and Christian graves are on the other; alluding to sectarian violence in the villagers’ pasts that belies their current harmonious interactions.
The women of the village hook up an old TV, connecting them to the outside world. They begin to see worrisome news reports about sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians not too far away. This unfurls the real plot of the story: the women, both Muslim and Christian, band together to prevent their hothead husbands from finding out about the tense relationships around them. Afraid that the men will start another sectarian war in the village, the women do everything in their power, from destroying the TV, to pleading, to drugging their husbands, fathers, and sons, to keep their men from killing one another.
The movie provides both belly laughs and tears. But, at its core, it remains a deeply introspective film and does not deign to provide any answers to the eternal struggle illustrated in this tiny Lebanese village; rather, it ends with a still relevant question: Where do we go now?