The T.G. Vaidyanathan Memorial Film Review Contest
Winner: Vidya Balasubramaniam
Institution: St. Joseph’s College
Where Do We Go Now”
A typical scene of communal disharmony. Despairing families, violence and bloodshed. Women who are suppressed by the males in their society, and a partition between the discordant religions as thick as the Iron Curtain.
Now take that image of a typically messy communal strife, and throw it out of the window.
Nadine Labaki has taken this sensitive conflict of religion, and portrayed it from an angle that is vastly different from the documentaries of tragedy. Sure, there’s a village, there’s disharmony, and there are problems. But what shines through in the film is the vibrance of life despite all these problems; the patches of sunlight dancing in the shadows of a dense canopy.
What struck me right away was the position of the women in the society. The film begins with a group of women, evidently united through the strongest of bonds, singing their way into a cemetery. Their voices are harmonised, their actions are perfectly in sync. Their faces may have been veiled, but they emanated an aura of having the capacity to take no nonsense from anyone. And that was when the feminist inside me roared her approval. I began to sense that this plot would have nothing to do with a solitary male hero, while having a lot to do with an entire community of women.
My instincts were proven right as we progressed into the plot. We see Amale breaking up a raging fight between several infuriated men, and proceeding to yell at them, almost succeeding in making their heads hang down in shame. Then we see Nassim’s mother, pointing a gun at her eldest son, ready to injure him if it meant that she had her way and he would be safe. Yvonne, the mayor’s wife was a challenge to the authority of her husband. The Ukranian girls commanded their own respect, despite being outsiders and appearing vulnerable. The women in this film had guts.
Labaki’s attempt to pepper this narrative with humor lightened the mood. I found myself falling in love with the movie because of the light-heartedness of it all. Amale would burst into song, Yvonne would feign moments of holy revelations, men would drool awkwardly at the Ukranian girls. Every time a scene ended with a dark mood, it was immediately followed by something to lighten the tension. The only place where i found this incongruous was the scene following Nassim’s death. We see the women of the village being teary eyed once they learned of his death. A few minutes later, we see them prancing around the kitchen, singing and baking hashish into cakes. While one could argue that this was a display of strength, and an attempt to put the bad things behind them, the fact still remains that a certain sobriety should remain after the death of a loved one, and perhaps a scene like this was placed rather inappropriately.
Having said that, I am eager to acknowledge the ingenuity of the solution that these women came up with. They used what they knew, and were familiar with (cooking and baking), and turned it into a weapon against weapons! I couldn’t help but admire their determination, and persuasiveness when it came to their menfolk.
And then comes the defining moment. For me, the defining moment of any film is where the title comes in, prances around, takes a bow, and hovers in the background. However, it worked out differently. The film was almost at a symmetric end (I take the liberty of pointing out the intentional use of the word “symmetric” which sounds like cemetery, which featured in the opening scene as well as the ending scene), and was about to wrap up when the title jumped in most unexpectedly. There was no time for it to prance around and hover. It came in, and implanted itself firmly into our heads before the credits began to roll.
The question “Where do we go now” struck me as pleasantly literal, with a touch of metaphor. The sections had been eliminated, and they were all one. The metaphor lies in the fact that the men ask the women this question. I believe that the answer lies in a brighter future, where amends are made, and they ride on the winds of amicability that the women strived their hardest to unleash. I walked away from the film, reveling in the happy ending where these winds had swayed away the darker parts of the metaphorical canopy, letting the sunlight pour into the nooks of a darkening world.