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Where Do We Go Now?: Light but Profound Film on Religious Sectarianism
This film tells the story of a small village in Lebanon around the turn of this century. Their only connection to the outside world is through a treacherous walk over a rickety stone bridge and they barely have access to television and radio reception. The whole village relies on two boys who frequently make the trek over to the nearest town on an old scooter, running errands and supplying the villagers with newspapers, clothes and other bits and pieces. Despite their near-total isolation, the religious sectarian violence affecting Lebanon as a whole manages to filter in, disturbing the villagers’ peaceful coexistence.
Where Do We Go Now? explores the women’s often comical attempts at keeping the peace in their village. They employ different strategies to keep the men distracted from the news thus protecting their village and families from unnecessary bloodshed.
The film’s opening scene is of a procession of women clad wholly in black, some with covered hair the others carrying crosses, making their way to the cemetery that is divided into two based on faith.
The women come as one, split off according to religion then engage in the exact same acts, mourning and grieving their loved ones, of which there are many and all of whom are men. It’s a very powerful scene that sets up the film perfectly. It asserts that shared experiences can be more powerful than shared faith and that believing in different religions doesn’t make people fundamentally different.
Now this is how you tackle a serious, highly relevant subject without preaching. This is also how you successfully, and more importantly respectfully, portray female relationships. Where Do We Go Now? gives us what is practically a war story, from the point of view of the women. War is erupting between Muslims and Christians all over Lebanon, and the women of the village are hell bent on preventing intolerant, hateful sentiments from taking root in their home despite the fact that the men are becoming exceedingly volatile. And before the words ‘war story’ send anybody off running, the film is not gory in the slightest nor does it revel in any form of brutality. In fact, the closest it gets to a physical depiction of war is the odd fistfight.
Director Labaki’s touch is all over the film and to anyone who’s seen her debut, Caramel, this is highly apparent. She excels at portraying multilayered female relationships and dealing with the interaction between people in general. The film is at its strongest when the women are figuring out a solution to their community’s problem. On the other hand, the film lacks the same emotional punch when the focus shifts to personal problems.
In general though, the film seems effortless. The strength of the characters’ relationships make the events flow very organically, succeeding in subtly showing the film’s message and side stepping any preaching. Even more impressively, the film’s cohesiveness isn’t interrupted in the slightest during the two musical interludes where the characters burst into song. It also helps that the songs are thoroughly charming and in fact the score as a whole is pretty gorgeous and fits the film perfectly. The acting is spot on and the women have a lived-in feel that really sells the story. Their relationships feel very genuine and they play off of each other perfectly; especially when they’re joking around and devising outlandish schemes to keep the guys distracted.
Where Do We Go Now? is a great, distinctly Arab film in that it deftly blends tragedy, comedy, melodrama and musical interludes. It tackles a really difficult subject, yet it is perfectly balanced as a light, crowd pleaser with an important and relevant, if rather simplistic, message.
As far as buddy-comedies go, you can do a lot worse than Etan Cohen’s – not to be confused with the other Ethan of ‘Ethan & Joel Coen’ – partially entertaining and exceptionally raunchy Get Hard. Written by the director himself – along with the help of Jay Martel and Ian Roberts – the latest Ferrell & Hart coalition is promising of a few laughs, but, it’s definitely not for everyone.
The story is centered on a cheerfully unconcerned multimillionaire trader, James King (Ferrell) who is unexpectedly arrested for the suspicion of fraud and embezzlement. Outraged and willing to fight for his innocence, James soon finds out that his ‘type of people’ – you know the white-collar ones – are no longer protected by the judicial system and he is soon sentenced to ten years in a maximum security prison.
Scared and worried at what awaits him, James – who has been given thirty days to get his affairs in order - soon comes across Darnell Lewis (Hart); a straight and hard-working African-American who runs the car-cleaning service in the garage of James’ firm. Determined to get as much help as he can get, James turns to the only man he believes knows a thing or two about prison. However, what he doesn’t know is that Darnell – who is more than happy to accept the thirty-thousand-dollars payment – is just as naïve about life in prison as he is.
Get Hard is not original nor is it exceptionally funny. Its lack of creativity shows and its love for conventionality is at times a little hard to bear. However, in the midst of all the vulgarity it so shamelessly finds itself in – the prison-rape jokes as well as sexual assault humor is a little on the excessive side but plenty funny if you allow it to be - there is still enough room for laughter. The jokes – which involve a lot of ‘back-door’ talk and other seemingly offensive behavior which some viewers might find a little hard to sit-through – don’t always land where they’re supposed to but, when they do, the results are rewarding.
The one thing that keeps the movie from falling completely flat on its face is the genuine chemistry between the two leads who have managed to pour in some of their best work into the mix. Ferrell is well, Ferrell and his oblivious and not-as-annoying-as-you-may-think man-child works well against Hart’s snappiness and fast-moving energy and the duo, although, not the most easy-to-love characters, succeed in delivering the laughs.
It’s stupid, funny and rude. It works, almost.
On the nose is a phrase we’ve come to often use, but there’s no other way to really describe about Mike Binder latest-feature. Written and directed by the stand-up-comedian-turned-filmmaker himself, or White has good intentions and the end-result is relatively satisfactory. However, it’s vanilla approach to the subject of family and race feels a little too conventional and offers no real insight on what is a complex subject,
Black or White is based on a true story and it follows the life of one Elliot Anderson (Costner); a successful attorney who has just learned that his wife (Ehle) has been killed in an accident. Turning to the bottle for some comfort, Elliot is grief- stricken and terrified as he has now been left to take care of their granddaughter, Eloise (Estell), all by himself.
Struggling to keep up with the everyday routine, Elliott relies on the help from his colleague, Rick (Burr), and Eloise’s new math tutor, Duvan (Koaho) to keep things on an even keel. However, things get complicated when Eloise’s other grandmother, Rowena (Spencer) – a.k.a Grandma Wee Wee – enters the picture, demanding that Elliott includes her and her recently-rehabilitated son, Reggie (Holland) – Eloise’s estranged father – into his granddaughter’s life.
As trivial as its title may sound, Black or White is actually a well-intended movie and a heartfelt story that - despite it Hallmark-like aesthetics - attempts to undo and unravel the subject of racism and prejudice through a story of love, loss, grief and familial hardships. Not everything works for Binder’s somewhat clumsy and overblown script; there’s a sense of stereotyping throughout and a handful of unrealised subplots and uncharted side-characters come to distract from the overriding arc. However, what does work is the fact that the story never asks you to choose sides and Eloise’s fate – profoundly debated in somewhat of a predictable and yet moving courtroom-filled third act – is lovingly and bravely fought for by both sides.
Another thing that works is the pairing of Costner – an actor who seems to be getting better with age – and the always-reliable Octavia Spencer. The two make a dynamic pair and both turn in strong performances; Costner’s clichéd interpretation of an alcoholic could have been a little more tempered, but he only gets stronger through the minutes, while the young Estell is more than just a pretty little face.
However, despite its positive turns, Mike Binder’s Black or White suffers from one too many truisms through a subject that could have produced much more.