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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.
There’s quirky and then there is the outright ridiculous. Unfortunately, it’s the latter that best fits Johnny Depp’s Mortdecai performance.
Based on Kyril Bonfiglioli's 1973 book anthology, Don’t Point that Finger at Me, the film follows the eccentric and the unconventional life of swindling British art dealer, Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Depp), who seems to have fallen into a financial rut. His lavish family estate – which he shares with his wife, Joanna (Paltrow) – is now in danger of being taken away from him and his long list of clients have caught onto his deceitful ways.
To make things even worse, Charlie soon finds himself at odds with Joanna, who is refusing to speak to him until he gets rid of the ridiculous handlebar moustache.
It’s not until Inspector Martland (McGregor) – Charlie’s old college roommate – shows up asking for help with a murder case that’s linked to the theft of a lost Goya painting that things begin to look up. Hoping that the finder’s fee will help him, Charlie – with the assistance of his loyal manservant, Jock Strapp (Bettany) – soon finds himself trotting around the globe looking for a painting that is not only valuable, but one that may lead them to a hidden treasure of gold.
Adapted to the screen by Eric Aronson, Mortdecai’s story is overly complex and disjointed to the point of complete and utter breakdown. The pace is relatively brisk and the gags – mainly involving Charlie’s moustache – are aplenty; however, the jokes are forced and never really hit their mark, leaving the whole development of the plot a little exhausting.
Depp – someone who has grown accustomed to odd-ball roles such as this – seems to be happy to step into the part of the eccentric British aristocrat, however, his usual charm and irresistible unconventionality seem to be a little on the off-side. Lacking originality and character, Depp is a babbling mess while Paltrow, McGregor and Bettany, were all a little lost in their respective roles.
Succumbing to a series of cheap gags and an ongoing barrage of humourless quips, Mortdecai – probably best described as Austin Powers meets James Bond – feels like a missed opportunity considering its accomplished and talented cast.
Well-deserving of all the attention it’s been getting, James Marsh’s Theory of Everything – an emotional and a rousing look inside the life of one Professor Stephen W. Hawking and his loving but, turbulent thirty-year long marriage to Jane Hawking – is nothing short of wonderful.
Sourced from Jane’s 2008 memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the story begins in 1963, with an exceptionally charming twenty-one physicist, Stephen Hawking (Redmayne), on his way of pursuing his doctorate from the University of Cambridge.
It is there that he first meets the beautiful literature-major student, Jane Wilde (Jones); a devout Christian whose outlook on life – and science in particular – doesn’t necessarily fall in line with his more agnostic and mathematical assessments of human existence.
Just as the love between the two begins to blossom and Stephen begins preparing for his final thesis, he discovers that he is suffering from motor neuron disease; an illness that will soon begin to take away his ability to walk and talk, amongst other things. Having been given only two years to live, the young and the highly-intelligent physicist – whose thirst for knowledge and passion for life refuses to surrender – slowly begins to challenge his weaknesses. However, as he continues to grow professionally, his life at home with Jane – who is single-handedly carrying his physical limitations on her frail shoulders – begins to show signs of despair.
While this is in fact a biopic – a simple and a straightforward one at that – which celebrates the life and work of Hawking, it is also very important to note that this is not a story that goes deep into his rise to fame as the renowned physicist we know today. It’s a much smaller scale story of love and compassion and a one focuses on human endurance, courage and, most of all, hope.
The Theory of Everything is shot beautifully and a real sense of romanticism and nostalgia – driven by a sensual and a tear-jerking classical score – can be felt throughout. It’s an emotionally-rich drama that, although sometimes can feel a little too sugary, manages to stay grounded. It is, to a large degree, thanks to Redmayne’s extraordinary performance audiences will be able to appreciate what is an insightful and meaningful peak inside the private life of one of the most respected and remarkable minds living today.