"There are a lot of things about us women that sadden me," says Lysistrata at the opening of the ancient Greek play that bears her name, "considering how men see us as rascals."
"As indeed we are!" replies her friend, Calonice, setting up the drama of Aristophanes' famous comedy, wherein the women of Greece conspire to withhold sex from their husbands until they stop fighting the Peloponnesian War.
3 stars = Good
- Starring: Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Leyla Hakim, Nadine Labaki.
- Rating: PG-13 for thematic drug material, some sensuality and violent images. With English subtitles.
"Where Do We Go Now?," a new film by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, takes this classic plot and tweaks it -- with results that are alternately poignant and whimsical, heartbreaking and irreverent. Set in a village beset by religious strife, the film chronicles the plots and foils of the town's women, who take extreme measures to stop their husbands, brothers and sons from killing each other.
The film begins with a shot of the village women on their way to the cemetery, swaying as they walk to a solemn choreographed dance. Reminiscent of a Greek chorus and clad all in black, they warn of impending conflict, beating their hearts as if to underscore their own suffering.
Back in the village, things seem relatively calm -- at least until a Christian rabble-rouser sends goats into the mosque and a Muslim replaces the church's holy water with chicken blood. The ensuing fight threatens to tear the village apart, neither faction quite sure what divides them. This is when the women, tired of grieving for casualties of a senseless fight, decide to step in.
Their schemes are absurd and brilliant. In their best-laid plan, the women pay a group of Ukrainian strippers to pretend to be stranded in the village after their bus breaks down. The men are so distracted by the skinny legs and cleavage that, for a time, their squabbles are forgotten.
In a rare display of solidarity, all the men line up before Roukoz, a boy whose job it is to venture outside the village to bring back needed toiletries and merchandise. Sex on the mind, one asks for hair thickener; another, for slimming cream.
Here and elsewhere, the film straddles the line between the comical and the morose. In one scene, a mother sobs behind closed doors, forced to cover up the death of her son to stop the village men from seeking violent revenge. In the next, the women sing and bake together in a state of near jubilee, mixing hashish into pastries to incapacitate the men.
The film at times seems unsure of what genre it wishes to be, but more often the lighter scenes provide relief from the weight of dead children, teary wives and the very real specter of bloodshed.
The story may be allegory, but the women's grief -- and their justifiable rage -- feels specific and real. Like Lysistrata, they are driven to their actions by the gravest of circumstances.
They are rascals, sure. But they are also wise beyond measure. And the final scene, though ludicrous, suggests they understand something the men do not: that there is only one way to go, now.
Opens today at the Regent Square Theater. In Arabic, Russian and English with English subtitles.
Nikita Lalwani: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1601.