Women try to get some peace

The women of the sun-baked Middle Eastern village in Where Do We Go Now? have had enough. The cemetery, divided in half with Muslim and Christian graves, is overflowing with the bodies of their men - husbands, sons, brothers, lovers, caught up in endless conflict.

And so, in Nadine Labaki's filmic fable, the women try to stop the fighting, the death. They import a troupe of exotic dancers from the Ukraine, as diversion. They spike baked goods with hashish, making everybody stoned and giddy. They entreat the priest and the imam to preach peace and conciliation.

And still the arguments rage on, the conflagration continues, the men die.

Labaki, an actress, writer, and director whose first film, Caramel, offered a winning look at the lives (and love lives) of five women in contemporary Beirut, has more trouble managing the tone and tenor of her follow-up feature. Magical realism and movie musical elements blend together - most successfully at the outset, as a chorus of grieving women, some sporting Muslim headdresses, others Christian crosses, move as one in a rhythmic dirge. Casting herself (as the proprietor of the local cafe) along with a mix of professional and nonprofessional actors, Labaki tries to get across her give-peace-a-chance message with humor, with song, with melodrama.

But there's a whole lot of histrionics, and like the strippers bused into town - Katia and Tatiana and Svetlana, sitting idly, playing cards - time passes with a sense that nothing is really happening, until suddenly too much happens all at once.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.


Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant, on va ou?)

Directed by Nadine Labaki. With Julian Farhat, Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Antoinette El-Noufaily, Nadine Labaki, Petra Saghbini, Kevin Abboud, Claude Msawbaa, Yvonne Maalouf, Leyla Fouad, Haidar Ali. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Running time: 1 hours, 50 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for thematic drug material, some sensuality and violent images).