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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.
Despite the limited release, there is no doubt that Jean-Francois Richet’s Blood Father – a surprisingly pulpy action-revenge-thriller about an ex-con who is dragged into a dangerous war with a violent cartel - will have many talking. Written by Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff, Blood Father offers a lean and – feverishly mean – eighty-eight-minutes of violent brutality that’s paired with exciting action set pieces and one of the best performances we’ve seen Mel Gibson offer in a long time.
The story is centred on John Link (Gibson); an ex-con who has recently been paroled and trying to make some sort of a life for himself in a remote southwestern town. Living in a trailer park, John makes his living by working as a tattoo artist while also battling his addictions in a twelve-step program, supervised by mentor, Kirby (Macy).
Without warning, John soon receives a call from his runaway daughter, Lydia (Moriarty) who is seeking help from her estranged father in getting away from a group of Mexican gangsters, following an accidental shootout where she killed her boyfriend, Jonah (Luna), who was a member of the cartel. Asking to stay with her dad, John is soon pulled into Lydia’s dangerous world of drugs and guns, forcing him to break his parole and hit the road with his daughter whom he will do anything for to protect.
While one could point out the similarities with Taken – where a father with a list of ‘special skills’ is pulled in to save his daughter from harm – Blood Father is a little rougher around the edges and a film that actually takes its time in formulating its characters, sketching out their traits, flaws and dynamics before allowing all hell to break loose. First and foremost, this is a story about a father - a former bad man who is trying to make amends after a lifetime of bad choices – and a daughter – a troubled young woman who has fallen in the hands of a wrong crowd – reuniting once more and reconnecting their bond under the most life-threatening of circumstances.
Their relationship is engaging to watch and the performances from both actors exceed the expectations; Moriarty manages to sell her character well, while Gibson is in his element as a deadbeat ruffian whose tough-as-nails attitude is perfectly balanced with his more sensible and sensitive nature. Paced with incredible precision, the action is exciting– there’s plenty of blood and gore - while the dialogue written is smart and strong enough to carry the movie when the action stops.
The only drawback is that there’s a sense of predictability to the movie, but thanks to the superb directorial execution and Mel Gibson’s outstanding performance, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the overall end result.
For his latest feature film, Woody Allen decides to return to Hollywood and explore his signature themes of love, passion and lost dreams in Café Society; an easygoing yet familiar comedy-drama which, although mostly watchable, lacks focus and is in need of a richer dramatic element.
Narrated by Allen himself, the story opens in 1930’s Hollywood at a pool-side party where Hollywood agent, Phil Stern (Carell), is sitting sipping drinks, looking important and commanding the attention of business associates and other admirers surrounding him. He is soon interrupted by a telephone call from his older sister, Rose (the wonderful Jeannie Berlin) who informs her brother that her youngest son, Bobby (Eisenberg playing what appears to be a younger version of Woody Allen), is headed out to Los Angeles and that Phil should help him get settled in.
After a few weeks of avoiding the initial meet, Phil soon meets with Bobby and lands him with a job at the agency where the young boy from the Bronx soon falls head-over-heels for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (played by the refreshingly expressive Stewart).
See, although Vonnie is interested in Bobby, she can’t commit to the relationship as she’s also canoodling with his uncle, who is trying to decide whether he should leave his wife of twenty-five years or not. Learning about the twisted love-triangle, Bobby begins looking for love elsewhere while, at the same time, dreaming of his home and uncomplicated life back in NYC.
Whilst Bobby and Vonnie’s story is seemingly the centre-point of the film, Allen doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the love birds, instead whizzing the story back and forth between NY and LA, where we also get to spend some time with Bobby’s parents and his terribly clichéd gangster of a brother - played wonderfully by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll. It keeps the story moving, but the lack of focus means neither of the stories really stick.
Set against a glossy Hollywood backdrop, one thing that stands out, however, is the cinematography. With the help of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the employment of the first-ever digital camera in a Woody Allen film, Café Society has that appropriately flashy feel to it, which successfully brings out the lavishness of its surroundings and, at the same time, ends up compensating for the writing’s occasional laziness.
The performances are solid with Eisenberg’s jittery naivety playing wonderfully against Stewart’s subtle nature and quiet beauty. It’s a shame that the rest of the picture couldn’t match their performance with Bobby’s description of life in Hollywood, “kind of half-bored, half-fascinating” serving to be the best assessment of the movie itself.