II Place: Vidya Gopal, SJC.
One of the most interesting conversations in the film “Where do we go now?” is between the two priests, the Pastor and the Imam as they contemplate ways and means to prevent the outbreak of Communal strife in their village. The two men look toward the women seated in the Church, a generous amount of light in the background creating what seems like an aura of divine power around them and remark, “If we follow these women and co-operate with them, a thousand paradises will open “. The film itself is a portrayal of this “ideal paradise”, a state of peace and religious harmony that is achieved through extraordinary means.
The film is set in an “unnamed village” with only hints to the region. The battle for the “Cross or the Crescent” is a give-away. It is Lebanon. “Communal strife” is at the centre of the film. It’s what surrounds the village and what the villagers or at least the women are desperately trying to avoid. This is an issue debated and contested in forums across world. The film, in suggesting that “men are the perpetrators of violence” and that only the women, having suffered, can and will leave behind their religious differences and come together and fight through trickery, deceit and luring them through temptation and drugs seems like a trivialization of the issues inherent in the region.
As a satire of Macho-ism and its link to Communal strife and the effective portrayal of feminine power (even if it isn’t realistic), the film works wonderfully well. The women are ordinary house-wives and mothers. They’re smart and quirky, manipulative but caring. They know-it-all! They protect the men, be it young boys or even older men, most of the times from themselves. They first “prevent” communal strife to “enter” the village by breaking the T.V and distracting the men from the news about Wardeh’s riots. They use Religion to their advantage and get Yvonne, the Mayor’s wife to pretend to converse with the Holy Mary. When preventive measures don’t work, they get into action. Fatmeh and Amale fight the elder men and protect their “sons”. Women are also seen as “beings of reason”. Even when Nassim dies, his mother isn’t instigated to avenge his death and doesn’t tell her uncontrollable son Issam about it and even shoots him on the leg later.
This when juxtaposed with the portrayals of men can leave the strong feminists to have a hearty laugh! Men are seen as mere puppets. They’re moved to violence very easily and can’t think for themselves. Abu Ahmad destroys the church without seeking evidence. Insult to the “Mother” is what enrages the men in the Café, as if they protect their women all the time! They line up to impress the show girls and work hard to bring water for them and are seduced into a deep slumber through drugs. A hearty laugh indeed- Parody of Male hypocrisy at its best!
The film as an art form has beautiful symbolism. Nassim’s mother runs to the Church dressed as the Holy Virgin herself and throws dirt at her, connoting the evil that Religion has wrought in the region. The figure of the Virgin Mary is the only “divine” entity throughout the film, constantly signifying the power of the woman. The melodramatic songs in the film have excruciatingly beautiful lyrics. Amale and Rabih’s romance denotes the romance between the two religions. The lyrics in the background to the melodious songs aptly go- “You’re not for me…tell me how the story ends…if there was a path we could take together…if there was peace between us”.
The Pastor and the Imam also as symbols representing Christianity and Islam display great co-operation. They announce from the mosque that they are tired of the villagers’ “bullshit”. They also preach that it wasn’t the “other” who destroyed the Cross in the church or let the animals into the mosque. It suggests that the Religions talking through the heads of the Church and Mosque don’t blame each other. They’re at peace while the men are the real instigators of violence. Their going away from the village at the end suggests the deterioration of the significance of Religion.
The film adds humour to a serious issue. It triumphs as a parody of Male aggression and its futility and enforces identities of ordinary women as powerful visionaries but it falls flat in its portrayals of “thinking”, “enlightened” women and its idealistic, impractical resolution to the problem – one becoming the “other”.