Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where Do We Go Now?

On Nadine Labaki"s film

I imagine a tiny village, a singing blurb, a fine painter’s sketch of that other mess that goes by the name of Lebanon.

I imagine this village simpler, earthier, more endearing than its larger agitated self.  

I imagine its knack for humor much stronger than its taste for cruelty; and if this last must be, then I imagine it bashful, apologetic, almost child-like in its expressions and intent.

I imagine it in the here and now and yet suspended in space and time, its hoary face practically intact, its connection to the world an old, beat up TV, its physical contact with it through a couple of teenagers and their rinky-dink motorbike.

I imagine its daily rhythms as Cinema Paradiso’s, its mood Il Postino’s, its chatter Il Mediterraneo’s. 

I imagine it split between Christians and Muslims. I imagine all its Muslim women veiled so that the viewer can tell them apart.

I imagine its men basic, stupid, one-dimensional creatures, ready to pounce for the silliest of reasons, to fist fight for the flimsiest of slights. And I imagine the war—yes, that war whose history is everywhere in mind but nowhere in sight—all theirs, the proverbial cross to carry around.

I imagine all the villages’ women wise, nurturing, funny, wily matriarchs. I imagine them--to a woman—free of all that taints their men.

I imagine the village’s priest and sheikh truly above the fray, even happy to exchange places on any given day.

I imagine angry scenes all of a sudden springing up just to prove a point; a few funny scenes to lighten up the pace; a few Ukrainian blondes to remind me of today’s Lebanon that lives somewhere, somehow beyond.

I imagine a single, tragic death, but I imagine it taking place far away, because who among these good people could be guilty of such an ugly act.

And so, I imagine a story about an atrocious sectarianism in an atrocious Lebanon, but I imagine narrating it with the sweetest of voices, because mine is the sweetest of visions.

There you have it: Where Do We Go Now?


You might imagine by now that I didn’t like Nadine Labaki’s movie, but actually I didn’t mind it much. She did well with the casting, she didn’t do that badly with the dialogue, and the sentimentality wasn’t over the top. There isn’t a single original idea in the entire script; still there is talent to be had, and that is good enough to applaud.

But who am I to talk? The movie is a hit. In Lebanon, people just can’t get over that fuzzy feeling that the country may yet be good, although everywhere you look it might look all bad. The people will get the message, some are no doubt thinking, although why a movie would do any better than 70 years of hatred and violence and death is, I guess, too cynical of a question to ask.

To her, I say bravo for turning something very real and hideous into something that we have it in us to overcome. That’s what I call suspension of disbelief in the service of a mighty dream. To the Lebanese, I say cheering a movie is not enough of an excuse or a pass. If you truly support the message, why are only a handful of you joining the actual call for all this to end?  

Then again, this might be asking too much and just to poop on everybody’s party and make a fuss. After all, surely the accolades in Toronto’s film festival—much like those idiotic puff pieces about Lebanon in the New York Times—should do the trick.

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