Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki is back this Friday with "Where Do We Go Now?," her anticipated follow-up to her directorial debut, "Caramel,"a critical and international commercial success that brought on a wealth of buzz for the gorgeous newcomer.
"Where Do We Go Now?" once again finds Labaki headlining a predominantly female ensemble of non-professional actors. But while "Caramel" was a lighthearted drama focused on the lives of a group of women who frequent the local beauty shop in Beirut and not on the troubles that plague Lebanon, Labaki's second feature a decidedly more serious affair that addresses her country's problems in an unconventional manner.
The film centers on a group of women living in unnamed village inhabited by both Muslims and Christians, and isolated because of the landmines surrounding it. When news hits the village that civil war has broke out in the neighboring communities, the two sides find themleves at battle, forcing the women of the village to band together and put an end to the unrest by whatever means necessary. That's not to say the film is all doom and gloom. Fans of "Caramel"'s buoyont tone will be happy to know that "Where Do We Go Now?" features some musical numbers that add levity to the tale.
Indiewire caught up with Labaki in New York last month to discuss the conflict at the center of the film, and the drama's surprise win at last year Toronto International Film Festival where it won the Cadillac People's Choice Award, beating out the likes of "The Artist" and "The Descendants."
Let's start with the win in Toronto. It marks quite the achievement for your film, especially given the fact that in past years, audiences have tended to go with more mainstream fare that seems Oscar certified. What did it mean to you to win the award?
It was just overwhelming. When I saw the audience reaction after the film, I thought this was so huge, so overwhelming, something should happen after this, it shouldn't go invisible. It was the biggest reaction. I was crying, the people were crying. People stood up and clapped for twenty minutes. And then when I got the news that we won the award -- I was on the plane going back to Lebanon -- I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that this Lebanese film, in a foreign language, with non-professional actors...that we did it. Of course it opened a lot of doors, a lot of discussion.
Toronto's such a different film festival from Cannes, a festival where you got your start by workshopping your debut feature as well as your follow up.
It's a completely different audience. There's something about a very instinctive reaction that's really coming from the heart. It's very different from a jury's reaction. Juries are forced to analyze.
But that's what's most important for me. I'm making films for the audience. I want this film to go beyond the film itself, and this is what's happening. They are not reacting to the film because it's perfect. The film is not perfect. It's not the best thing I could have done. People are relating to what the film is saying. They are relating to what they are feeling as human beings, and this connection to your neighbor. So it's about human nature, human relations. That was the aim for me.
No doubt a large part of the cross-over appeal lies in the fact that "Where Do We Go Now?" is intentionally not specific. You never actually cite Lebanon as the film's setting. Why did you set out to make the film on these broad terms?
Because it should be more universal. I'm not only talking about Christians and Muslims. This is a conflict between human beings who are different and do not tolerate this difference. I could have talked about a conflict between two races, or two families, or two friends, or maybe even create two new religions. It's about how we are not able to tolerate our differences. Living in the same country, living in the same building, the same family -- that's what I want to talk about. We have so many conflicts and so many problems, most of the time for stupid reasons.
You resolve the central conflict between the Christians and Muslims in the village by having them each adopt the other's religion -- a pretty fantastical conceit. Were you wary of the potential controversy this plot point could bring about?
It's been a little bit controversial, but it's not as controversial as I imagined it would be. Of course at first you are a little bit scared about the consequences, especially when you talk about religion. Of course I had this anxiety about it, but people shave been reacting so well. If you are a bit shocked by certain scenes, when you get to the end of the film you understand why and you calm down. And then it forces you think, who doesn't want to live in peace? Everyone does somehow.