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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.
Unable to take the plunge and fully immerse itself into its own pool of ideas, Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime – drawn from the pages of Elmore Leonard’s 1978’s novel, The Switch – is, sadly, neither here nor there.
Set in Detroit, Michigan circa 1978, Life of Crime is centred on inept and useless low-level criminals, Louis (Hawkes) and Ordell (Def), who hope to extract one million dollars from drunken real-estate developer, Frank Dawson (Robbins), for the kidnapping of his seemingly lonely socialite wife, Mickey (Aniston).
The plan seems pretty straightforward at first, but little did they know that Frank – who’s busy canoodling with his young mistress, Melanie (Fisher) at their vacation home in Florida – has already filed for divorce and is now more than happy to use this opportunity to sidestep the obligatory alimony payments.
Now that Frank has called their bluff, things get a little complicated for the hopeless thugs who have clearly not done their research and even more so when Mickey – who is being held hostage at a home of a Nazi-loving fanatic, Richard (Boone Jr.) – comes to realise that her matrimonial bliss has now truly come to end. The deepening relationship between Louis and Mickey only adds fire to the fuel, causing a riff between the two partners, who seem to be running out of both ideas and time.
While the film still manages to serve its purpose and deliver the goods – through a mix of black comedy and slow-burning tension –Schechter, who also wrote the adaptation, plays it too safe; an approach that doesn’t really allow for Elmore Leonard’s distinctive storytelling style to shine through. Life of Crime is not the first Elmore Leonard adaptation – see Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Sonnefeld’s Get Shorty. Unlike those to adaptations, this lacks an edge, leaving it rather placid.
Aniston shines as the lonely trophy wife whose kidnapping – although distressing – also ends up being a one-way ticket out of her isolated and troublesome marriage. The actress, who is not usually seen in these types of roles, manages to show great versatility and the chemistry shared between her and Hawkes is equally convincing. Robbins is persuasive as the alcoholic, two-timing husband while Fisher was deliciously manipulative as the seductive mistress.
Capturing the 70’s era with plenty of polish and charm, Life of Crime is rather forgettable, despite occasionally popping into action – the source material deserved better.
Adapted from John Green’s 2012 bestselling novel of the same name, The Fault in our Stars - a formulaic but engagingly honest story of star-crossed lovers brought together by a mutual pain - will sadden, enrich and perhaps even comfort, many of those who come across its path.
The story is centred on the sixteen year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Woodley); a girl who has been battling with terminal thyroid cancer since the age of thirteen. After being one of the few to respond to an experimental drug treatment, her condition is now stable, though the side effects have weakened her lungs and she is now constantly attached to a portable oxygen tank.
Hazel has pretty much accepted the fact that her days are numbered but her parents, Frannie (Dern) and Michael (Trammell), are increasingly concerned for her emotional well-being and urge her to join a cancer support group for young cancer patients like herself; not wanting to stress her parents any further, Hazel soon agrees to go.
It’s there that she first meets Augustus Waters (Elgort); an optimistic osteosarcoma survivor who lost part of his leg due to the illness. He is now living cancer-free and only comes to the meetings to support his best-bud, Isaac (Wolff). Instantly intrigued by each other, Hazel and Augustus strike up a flirty friendship but Hazel - someone who views herself as a grenade and is set on protecting those around her from the blast when that day eventually comes - is reluctant to let Augustus in. But as their relationship slowly begins to inch towards romance, she soon sees that she really doesn’t have much say in the matter.
Woodley is absolutely enigmatic as the story’s cancer-stricken heroine and ends up infusing a great amount of likeability and authenticity into the role of a young girl asked to face her destiny much too soon, while Elgort shines as the witty and the incredibly charming young man who refuses to let the cruelty of life dampen his spirits.
The Fault in Our Stars is only the second feature-film for director Josh Boone – see 2012’s Stuck in Love - however, he executes the tricky adaptation like a veteran. Scripted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webert, the gravity of the material is handled wonderfully and there is a heavy dose of sincerity, humour and most important of all, heart, injected into the story’s sombre themes.
On the downside, its teenage-romance premise does get a little too cutesy in parts and the subplot, which involves a trip to Amsterdam, feels a little underdeveloped. Nevertheless, it’s the easy chemistry between its protagonists and its earnest approach makes The Fault in Our Stars a success and an ultimate real tear-jerker that won’t leave a dry eye in the house.