By Mike V. Derderian

Written for On Campus‘ 2011 December issue

Writer’s Note: With all the fanaticism out nowadays I wanted to share with you what I think of this amazing movie that decries religious fanaticism in favor of a humanitarian approach to life.  

Lebanon will be submitting it to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 84th Academy Awards in 2012; it premiered in Cannes Film Festival section Un Certain Regard and won the Cadillac People’s Choice Award in the Toronto International Film Festival this year, so will anything I write about Nadine Labaki’s masterpiece, O’ Hala La Wein? (And Where Do We Go Now?), add to this amazing piece of cinema?

I just said masterpiece and amazing so that must tell you something.

O’ Hala La Wein? stars Claude Moussawbaa, Layla Hakim, Antoinette Noufily, Yvonne Maalouf, Adel Karam and Nadine Labaki as Amal, a Christian woman who has feelings for a Muslim man Rabih (Julian Farhat), both of whom live in a secluded village inhabited by Christians and Muslims.

This 110 minute cinematic caramel sticks to one’s mouth long after the credits end. Every word of dialogue spoken resonates like a gunshot, every single body gesture shakes the earth upon which it stands within the frame of the camera, and every scene takes you to the other with a flow that matches that of a river.

Not a single frame is a waste; you just sit there waiting for the next epiphany to come out of the mouths of the village elders and youngsters.

To say that this film that titillates the imagination and astounds the heart with the bravery with which Labaki attacks sectarianism—a better verb would be maul—is faultless might be deemed an overstatement by some but it is; it is faultless, enjoyable and most of all memorable.

Labaki leaves no stone unturned: Sectarianism, religion, war, sexism, brainwashing, drugs and love. She takes all of the above and blends it into a well constructed work of cinema that will be much talked about and inspire future generations of young filmmakers.

Viewers will find themselves fully immersed in the lives of villagers living in this out of time and out of place Lebanese village that can only be reached by going through a land mine and a narrow passage over a deep ravine.

How do they survive in such a secluded village? Everyone sends their produce of vegetables and homemade products like conserves with Naseem and Rowkus, the village’s chivalrous errand boys, who ride out into the unknown on their tricycle. They also bring back the villagers their supplies of cigarettes, newspaper, pantyhoses and hair coloring products.

The women of the village, along with Amal, who owns a café, try hard to keep the men in the dark so as to keep the embers of sectarian strife away. They, Muslims and Christians, are at peace with each other, unlike the men, who are constantly looking for an excuse to bludgeon each other.

Mild spoiler ahead!

The lengths that these women, from both sides, many of which are widowed, and have lost loved ones to sectarian violence, go to preserve peace are immeasurable: They fabricate a religious miracle, bring Ukranian showgirls to preoccupy the men’s minds and even resort to drugs. They even sabotaged the village television set that the Naseem, Rawkus with the help of other boys fixed and readied for village evenings, cut the radio wires and started burning the newspapers.

These moments of feminine solidarity and attempts to stay in the past without touching on the present remind us of Wolfgang Becker’s 2003 Good Bye Lenin! in which a young man tries to keep his mother, who just woke up from a prolonged coma, under the illusion that her East Germany is still strong so as to not traumatize her.

A few minutes into the film that started with a very strong scene –will leave that for you to find out—the lovelorn Amal and Rabih perform an imaginary tango in their heads that reflects their yearning and inability to connect because of their religious difference.

Listening to Khaled Mouzannar original music one cannot but drift away especially with the sing and dance scenes that are reminiscent of great Hollywood musicals in the vein of Carol Reeds’ 1968 Oliver.

Christophe Offenstein’s lush cinematography and the natural acting of the cast, a well balanced blend of comedy and tragedy, accentuate the story written by Labaki, Thomas Bidegain and Rodney Al Haddid.

Of course religious fanatics from both sides of the fences will have a bitter after taste from Labaki’s in-your-face moralization and that comes out as a condemnation of the process of politicizing religion more than religion itself.

In simple Where O’ Hala La Wein? deserves to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Great job Nadine Labaki and everyone who worked on this unforgettable film!

Must-See-Scene: 

A mental tango that takes place in the head of two people, who cannot touch or speak out their love in public, is but one scene that will blow your mind with the smoothness with which it runs on the screen.

Nadine Labaki and Julian Farhat break into the sensual dance at her café where he is helping her paint and renovate. He is a Muslim and she is a Christian and sparks are bound to happen and I am not talking love sparks.

Will love conquer all? O’ Hala La Wein? opens with a visually strong scene and ends with a stronger one that will turn your mind around; or so Labaki hopes after you watch her film.

It is packed with scenes that are worth watching: Scenes of villagers watching a newly connected television set while women try to drown the news of sectarian strife by picking up a fight, scenes of a clergy and a man of the cloth who find harmony in order to save their village.

Yet another spoiler ahead!

My favorite scene is the one in which the women decide to bake drugs into food so that they can intoxicate their men into religious coexistence.

Labaki and the female cast break into a jolly sing along that sarcastically glorifying yet another ancient weapon: Drugs. Composed by Labaki’s brilliant composer, Khaled Mouzanar the film’s original music is being lauded by everyone who watched the film. Just try to watch it at the movies!

Most Memorable Line:

Yep! This month’s Cutting Celluloid is dedicated to one of the best Arabian films you will ever see.

Nadine Labaki’s brilliant film comes out as a bitter-sweet morality play that rips sectarianism apart as it did to Beirut times and again. You will leave the theatre remembering every single word of dialogue that reminds you of your one week long stay in Beirut, where cussing is like saying hello.

The Lebanese people aren’t shy about cussing, and neither are some of the first time actresses in this movie. To be honest that’s an aspect I very much admire as it is very real and reflective of life.

Upon realizing that their village will fall into the clutches of sectarianism the women of the village resort to sex to preoccupy their men. Spoiler ahead! Sex has been the weapon of both genders since the dawn of man and the women of the village very well know that so they end up asking Rawkus and Naseem to hire the services of Ukrainian showgirls to the chagrin of the Mayor’s hot tempered wife Yvonne (Yvonne Maalouf).

The following line spoken when Afaf, the village women and the Ukrainian showgirls take a swim in the village’s water reservoir is but one of hundreds spoken throughout the duration of this beautiful film.

She is poking fun at the skeletal frames of the European women, who start to empathize with the women’s ordeal.

Cast:

Laila Hakim … Afaf

Dialogue:

Afaf :

The smallest breast in our village would feed half of Ukraine!

P.S: In addition to writing the Cutting Celluloid page for On Campus Magazine Mike (ana/I/moi/yes) is also the writer of Go Out and Go Home pages for Go Magazine. He has been reviewing cinema professionally since 2002 through Cinerama, a movie column that he wrote for The Star Weekly until 2009. It all started when his mother found the ideal babysitter for him: Films, both technicolor and black and white, on television.  

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