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The role of women in the Middle East is at the heart of Where Do We Go Now?

If women were in charge, there'd be peace in the Middle East — or at least that's what's suggested by Where Do We Go Now?, the second film from Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labaki. Like her 2007 debut, Caramel, it's driven by a deep faith in female friendship, though here the stakes are higher, and war lurks at the edges. The film follows the women of a remote village in Lebanon as they try to keep their menfolk from joining in the sectarian violence erupting around them by burning newspapers and sabotaging the only working television. When the refuge of blissful ignorance fails, they turn to other distractions, falsifying religious miracles and hiring a group of Russian strippers. The film's flights of fancy (including a scattering of musical numbers) waver between actually charming and overly cute — but they don't meld with the undercurrent of anguish that sometimes erupts, including in a wrenching monologue from Labaki herself, breaking up a fight among her cafe customers by howling, "You think we're here just to mourn you?" Like the hashish-laced pastries the ladies make to sedate the male population, the film feels like it has been dosed with sugar to mask its distressingly bitter taste.

 
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