Sunday, October 09, 2011

Labaki's Ou Hala La Wein: Form without content?

Is it finally here? The film that will get the international recognition that Lebanon has been waiting for? Ou Hala La Wein (Where Do We Go Now) has it all. It's got a rustic feel with a modern look. It's got an excellent cast, who can also sing. It's got drama and tragedy, with some pretty witty comedy. It touches upon, but never really gets into, a war that baffled many, enough to intrigue but not too much so as to take away from the drama. It's directed by a strong, confident, young woman who can also perform. I can't imagine how this film could possibly go unrecognized.


Before I get into the core of the subject, I'd like to get this out of the way. In her new film, Nadine Labaki falls into two traps:
  1. She lets her ego get the better of her. This becomes clear as soon as you realize that she is the only love interest in the film, in a romantic entanglement that is completely unnecessary for the plot. I am also convinced that she had a hand in casting the 4 supposedly hot Russians (but sooo not) to make sure that she remains the most physically appealing woman in the film. Of course that plan goes out the window as soon as the gorgeous Fatmeh (Anjo Rihane) removes her veil.
  2. And this can also apply to a lesser extent to her previous film, Caramel: Labaki is never sure what kind of film she's making. I can live with tragedy mixed with some comedy, but sprinkling 3 songs along the way, one of which is an upbeat song about hashish and drugs right after the most tragic scene in the film, just doesn't make any sense to me. Why do Labaki's characters burst into song only once or twice during the film? What exactly is she trying to do? A little bit of everything perhaps?
Now I've heard a lot of talk about how simplistic and stereotypical the film is, how it portrayed men and women as two groups, the former bloody thirsty testosterone-filled and the latter manipulative but peace loving. But I completely disagree with this view. I don't think that Labaki was trying to make a movie about the men and women of Lebanon and how they deal with difficult times. Nor was she trying to tell a story of how war starts and how it can be stopped. Ou Hala La Wein is about women who know what it means to lose something more important than themselves. The dedication at the end says it all: "To our mothers", the unsung heroes of the war. It's a day dream about a village where the mothers have the last say, where they never again have to lose a single loved one to mindless violence, for nothing. Is it real? Of course it isn't. Is it well thought out social commentary? I don't believe that it is. But I enjoyed the film and loved every single female character in there.

So the question remains: Is Nadine Labaki trying to fool us with form without content? An abstraction without depth? Maybe. But then again so is Lebanon, with its fake politics, democracy and freedom, representing nothing but the desires of the external forces that move them. Nadine's film may be a little shallow, but so are our differences.

7 comments:

Nour said...

You spoke my mind! Every time some one asks me what I thought of the movie, and give my honest opinion, I get a disappointed look as if I was speaking in riddles!

Anonymous said...

A great review but you were harsh...if bollywood is any example, sometimes mixing it up can work, the songs were strange and oddly placed but they entertained. I don't think the film aspired to be social commentary, it is fluffy and shallow but delightfully entertaining and the cast was brilliant! I'm taking my mum to see it! I'm only thankful my powers of critique are so dulled I was able to enjoy it without seeing the flaws you pinpointed so well. Though I agree 100% about the Russian casting....what was that about?

Another Lebanese Female Filmmaker said...

I'm not sure how I got to your blog and read your review of "where do we go now"...
I'm not one of those people infatuated with Nadine Labaki like everyone else these days... But one cannot deny the fact that this is currently the best Lebanese movie -and most probably Middle Eastern movie- ever made and it's most probably going towards a "best foreign movie" Oscar nomination.

I disagree with you about her ego... Her character was the least interesting out of all the women... she wasn't even a "supporting actress"... Her love interest in the movie was not crucial, but it was also important to show how love goes beyond religion... and I'm glad this wasn't even pursued by the end of the movie to a cheesy ending...

The only thing regarding her ego that I complained about was the movie poster layout, showing only herself... It doesn't make sense considering she's not the lead actress. I would've appreciated a picture that includes all the main women...

As for your critique of her mixing tragedy with comedy and song I think this is the ingenious part of the movie which landed her the award in Toronto... One moment your crying your eyes out, the next your bursting into laughter in the Hashish scene... For those who lived the war will know what this means... This is the irony of war...

Finally, I do agree that in some ways it does look simplistic... But I'm sure this movie was specifically tailored for an oscar nomination.

It doesn't show the real suffering of the mothers during war... but at the end it does achieve its purpose... you leave thinking to yourself how ridiculous war is...

At the end I just wanna say a tribute to Claude Baz (Takla in the movie)... I'm not sure if she ever acted before or not all I know is that she eclipsed everyone else...

sr said...

Great review... I felt like it was just a beautiful long video clip about not much with the danger of strengthening stereotypes

Ziad said...

I agree with what you said about Nadine's character. I think the reason is that we're just too familiar with her work, and we all expected her to have a larger role in the movie. When it became obvious that neither her character nor the love story were substantial for the plot, I directly felt that it's as if she forced that character and subplot into the script.

I think that if she had surprised us with not acting in her movie for once, we wouldn't have had that expectation, and the love story would have seemed more organic.

sala said...

the film is a real entertainment though it has some flaws, the main one of course is the stereotypes of men and women..it's never that simple

and her poster showing only her ..is she a feminist or "Nadinist"?
i watched it yesterday, but in general it's a good film

sala said...

the film is a real entertainment though it has some flaws, the main one of course is the stereotypes of men and women..it's never that simple

and her poster showing only her ..is she a feminist or "Nadinist"?
i watched it yesterday, but in general it's a good film