Ever since the Greeks and "Lysistrata" (circa 411 BC), dramatists have been exploring the comic potential of women trying to impose peace on their men through subterfuge, skulduggery and chastity, posing the very rational suggestion that if females were in control, there'd be no war.
In "Where Do We Go Now?," director and actress Nadine Labaki makes the same point. But she is likely the first storyteller to do so via a narrative involving hashish, Ukrainian dancing girls and the Virgin Mary.
Yes, the comedy is broad. Labaki, who co-wrote the screenplay and plays a fiery Christian widow named Amal, imagines the easily imaginable. The movie takes place in an unspecified Middle Eastern village of Muslims and Christians. Its potentially peaceful coexistence is consistently disturbed by events beyond its city limits. The cycle of hostilities and escalating level of violent retribution demands action on the part of someone, even if it's the women who meet daily at Amal's cafe.
The antics range from the plausible to the ridiculous. To explain away one potential offense to local sensibilities, the mayor's wife (Yvonne Maalouf) claims an intercession by the Virgin Mary; to keep news from filtering into the village, its one crippled television is assassinated. In another sequence, a band of Ukrainian showgirls is brought in to keep the men distracted. Elsewhere, hashish and sedatives are used to keep them unconscious.
Labaki never claimed to be Noël Coward, but the facile comedy leads to a dilution of the message she strives so strenuously to make. That message is welcome, but the characters are so many, and so briefly sketched out, that "Where Do We Go Now?" feels a little cheap, which is tough to say about a movie that takes a stand against sectarian violence, internecine warfare and dead children. Labaki's heart is in the right place. But, sometimes, her commercial instincts seem out of sync with her subject.
PLOT In a remote Muslim-Christian village in Lebanon, the women will go to any lengths to keep the men from killing each other. Unrated
CAST Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Layla Hakim, Nadine Labaki, Yvonne Maalouf
PLAYING AT Malverne Cinema 4, Manhasset Cinemas, Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
BOTTOM LINE Bighearted, if a bit softheaded. (In Arabic, English and Russian with English subtitles)