Female Lebanese director Nadine Labaki has crafted a surprisingly stylish movie which stays long in the memory. The setting is a small Lebanese mountain village, and the theme is the uneasy co-existence of the Muslims and the Christians, who each make up about half of the population.
Even though these people all live in the same community and know each other well, it doesn’t take much for their religious resentment of each other to flare up uncontrollably. When the local church and mosque are subjected to bits of vandalism (we never hear who is responsible; likely it’s just teenage pranks), the men of the village instantly and violently blame the adherents of the other faith and come to blows. They are ruled by strong emotions which easily explode, making life miserable for all.
The women of the village are the rational ones. They try to contain the resentment and discuss amongst themselves what they can do to keep the men from fighting so much and so violently over so little. Eventually they reach the conclusion that the men need to be distracted – and so they hire a busload of Ukrainian exotic dancers from a nearby larger city, and make it seem as if their bus breaks down right outside the village. It’s going to be a few days the men of the village will never forget… and have I mentioned the conversions yet? No? Well, that would be spoiling!
The situation may not seem realistic, and the movie has many elements of comedy, but it is also a serious treatment of a real problem in Lebanon and other places, where reason rarely prevails. Personally, it seems to me that these kinds of religious conflicts do not really have that much to do with religion, but with cultures that are generally ruled too much by their passions and old ideas of honor, tradition and retribution to be able to look at their own situation in a rational light. Their problems rarely makes sense to educated people, but seem motivated by a chaotic and unbridled anger and outrage which are quite alien to the rationally minded. Frankly, as I see it, the sooner those countries leave their passion-ruled culture behind and become part of the age of reason, the better. But I guess they’re trying. Inertia is a hard thing to cast off.
The movie is also a musical; now and again some delightful songs are interspersed with the narrative, especially in a long food preparation scene where they’re making hash cakes…
Director Nadine Labaki, obviously an educated and open-minded individual, herself plays one of the Christian main characters in the movie; the owner of the local café. She is a gorgeous single mom who is considered a bit of a slut by the village women, simply for being a bit more open-minded than they are, and she’s developing feelings for a Muslim handyman who always seems to find something new to repair at the café. Hence, the movie is a comedy, a romance, a drama and a musical very successfully rolled into one. Highly impressive!
Director: Nadine Labaki
Cast: Nadine Labaki, Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Layla Hakim, Antoinette Loufaily, Yvonne Maalouf and others.
Runtime: 100 min.