I was doing a story about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo with my friend the African Lebanese painter Kiki Bokassa when Kiki told me about some rituals in Mexico that celebrate the memory of the dead.
People gather for dinner at homes and put out the favorite foods of the loved ones they are remembering, along with photos and clothing. They dance and tell stories about the deceased, a ritual that seemed a bit strange to me.
After watching the first dance of the widow in Nadine Labaki’s latest movie, Hall2 Lawen (“Where Do We Go Now?”) I recalled Kiki’s words … and realized that greeting the dead by dancing is not a strange thing at all.
But the dance I saw in the first scene of the film wasn’t funny. I could see the pain these women felt about the absence of their loved ones. Even though the majority of the women were not professional actors their emotions were heartfelt and believable.
At the beginning of the movie, a sad dance introduces us to a sad reality that we all try to hide in order to convince ourselves that we are living “happily ever after.”
No ... we are not, so stop lying to yourselves: That is Nadine’s message about the current situation. She asks, why did we kill each other, again, on May, 7th 2008?
Nadine Labaki, the 37-year-old director of the film, dedicates the movie to “our mothers,” and that’s because she is a mother herself, and says she felt terrified for her infant son when clashes took place in May 2008. She says she had to do something for her son, for her country, even if she already knew that she didn’t have a magic key.
Nadine feels sorry for the mothers who lost their sons, the wives who lost their husbands, the women who lost their brothers or beloved friends, and these women are the key characters in her new movie. They are the leaders who are willing to do anything to prevent the war in their small village.
We don’t know where the village is, or when the events are taking place, because Labaki wants the setting and events to be timeless!
Christians and Muslims live in this village, and the women have one goal: prevent their men from fighting each other. Almost every day the men fight, and almost every day the women create a new trick to stop them, crazy tricks sometimes, like giving their men some sexy Ukrainian ladies to distract their minds and attention from the fighting.
It might not be a pivotal scene in the film, but I couldn’t forget it: Takla, a Christian woman, who has already lost her younger son, shoots her elder son in his knee to stop him from taking part in a massacre against Muslim neighbors. Labaki herself said: I would do the same with my son if he decides to kill his Muslim neighbor.
I can understand Labaki’s point of view; she was been born in 1974, one year before the Lebanese civil war, and suffered from the war and survived it, like many other Lebanese. But the clashes in 2008 made her realize that her people were living a big lie; they were ready to fight at the drop of a hat, for whatever reason.
The men in the film’s village were thinking and acting absurdly, just like our politicians are doing. Start the war, yes sir! Stop the war, yes sir!
Surprisingly, the Muslim sheikh and the Christian priest in the film were working hand in hand along with the women, helping them carry out their tricks and deals. This is a demonstration of Labaki’s dream of a better role for real-life religious leaders, who often worsen the situation by increasing the sectarian mobilization.
The movie wasn’t censored in any way. On the contrary, the young director said that the general security supported her movie, but they were worried about her personal safety, since some of the film’s scenes might offend some Muslim and Christian.
A character in the foilm, Abou ahmad, a fanatical Muslim, destroys the statue of Virgin Mary with his cane, while Takla, a Christian, yells at the virgin in a church for the death of her son.
But who will protest in Lebanon after the movie won many international awards, including some given by religious bodies?
Labaki wants to deliver a message that hits the Lebanese and wakes them up: Stop fighting and find a solution to accept each other.
Her film’s ending might seem utopian, and perhaps that’s why she asks “where do we go now?”
As for me, the women in her film shall be the muses that inspire our men, and and I believe that her work, dedicated to our mothers, has delivered its message loudly and clearly.
(The writer can be reached at: Nisrine.email@example.com)