Women who hate war

2012-03-07 L’Osservatore Romano

There are few voices outside the choruses of general consensus for the film “Where do we go now?” by Nadine Labaki, screened at Cannes in 2011 (in the section Un certain regard), acclaimed by the public in Toronto, showing in Italian cinemas in January and also in local festivals with an additional educational value. The culminating scene might well evoke for us the monologue-dialogue of Filumena Marturano when, sensing her first pregnancy, she stands in her home street in front of the miraculous image of Our Lady of the Roses and challenges her, woman to woman, without mincing her words: “What am I to do? You know everything”. The Virgin says not a word and Filumena persists: “I’m talking to you, so answer me!”.

The context of the reference is different but the attitude of the mothers is identical. They are set by the young film director and Lebanese actress in a village which certainly (and intentionally) has no definite topographical features but is all too clear in the universal context of the parable: a cultural genre and setting to which Labaki is entitled, one might say, by birth. In this is inherent the true comparison, noted on various sides, with the vivid and minimalist realism of her previous film Caramel (2007), which in any case sketched a very complex scenario that could be shared, from the seemingly frivolous and partial viewpoint of a beauty salon. And the title: “Where do we go now!”, comes from the question that implicitly opens and explicitly closes the colourful event, deliberately, with the at times overloaded pathos of Greek tragedy, with a reference to a chorus. The chorus is made up of the village women, clothed in black, who accompany the bodies of their sons, brothers, husbands or friends to the cemetery. To the cemetery? Or to the cemeteries? Yes, because the dichotomy between adverse factions – here between forms of religious extremism – is perpetuated in the land of the dead, where women in mourning are obliged to separate. In their hearts however, where the images of their menfolk rest, death does not suffocate but on the contrary, seems to revive – as it were in response to the recurrent challenge of evil – a unitive and effective love within the community.

It has been observed that church and mosque in Labaki's skies etch an improbable silhouette against the skyline but perhaps the most subtle and tenacious point is that of the young people who scramble to find where the radio-television signal is strongest, as it happens, gathers the whole village (although not everyone may be in agreement of the programme to watch, but that is another story). Those who turn up their noses should remember that watching television was a fascinating opportunity for encounter and for peace; in other ways the epoch of Don Camillo-Peppone was called to mind by someone with regard to the film and perhaps a few fine references to this had filtered into it, just as Eduardo could have reappeared in it.

Nadine Labaki's women, for their part, are on a parallel quest for a peaceful and vital channel between the community and an unbounded sky, to the point that they minimize or gloss over even serious events so as not to trigger a spiral of vendettas and the disinterment of weapons and ammunition. And even a caravan of uninhibited cabaret artists can be rerouted to distract the men (considered here, as if they were a single grotesque figure), especially since the rash exposition to the sun would suffice to send the potential ether into tilt. Nor does the courage of the mothers flinch before a Marian miracle, where the same devotional statuette of the Virgin, decapitated out of pique by an adverse party, weeps tears of presumed blood.

Yet a true tear – even if no one comes to know of it – falls from the same face, smashed and patiently pieced together after the mother, whose son has been senselessly dispatched by an anonymous bullet, has burst in. Though she does her utmost to be silent as long as she can, even with her friends, so as not to unleash the feared feuds, a church door is thrown open with such a violent gesture that a light is put out, and it is before the “broken Madonna” that the mother explodes without reticence: “Why don't you answer? Aren't you a mother too?”.

Between the lines, over and above the contingent details, the parable recounted by Nadine Labaki seems to suggest that this disarming mirroring of woman to woman, even and especially today, “the apparition”, is what the world stands in great need of.

Isabella Farinelli