Remembering our past, carrying it around with us always, may be the necessary requirement for maintaining, as they say, the wholeness of the self.

– Milan Kundera, Identity

Western audiences are still largely confounded by the Middle East (the term itself has pejoratively Eurocentric origins). It remains difficult for them to believe that the same countries (“the others!”) that they see on their news programmes, those populated by suicide bombings and perpetual turmoil, contain rich heritages of culture and art that existed long before Western society. Take for instance, last year’s “go-to” foreign film, A Separation. Aside from being a fine film, I suspect a large portion of its praise (at least from Western audiences) was due in part to the novelty of the scenario – “An Iranian film that isn’t about terrorists?! You mean that Middle Eastern society isn’t all about oppression and war?!”

This, I suppose, is the reason for the mixed reactions I have read to Et maintenant, on va où? Audiences are unsure how to react to a (Middle Eastern) film that combines aspects of comedy and tragedy in a manner that does not forsake one for the other. A film that depicts the death of children amongst song and dance? The outrage!

Labaki’s second film following the phenomenal Sukkar banat, I would argue, is largely a ‘dark comedy’ (but not quite). It is a satirical tragicomedy that stubbornly escapes the confines of two-dimensional categorisation abilities of a Western audience that is stumped for a genre. True, there are aspects of war, and unrest, but also of community and humour. Ultimately, it is a direct reflection of a crisis of identity – one of faith and society; holding up a mirror to reflect the absurdity of religious conflict. It is a film poetically administered, from the opening choreographed mourning scene, to the almost dream-like sequences hinting at grand Bollywood romances, to the sobering reality of wartime casualties.

Moreover, it depicts a true novelty in cinema – a community of women banding together and taking it upon themselves to solve a problem. Despite the religious tension that pervades the men, it is the women who remain united throughout; not only as mothers and wives, but as women, drawing upon the tragedies of the past to bring them courage and not incite them into revenge.

War and peace are capable of existing simultaneously, and countries experiencing civil unrest witness it everyday. Et maintenant, on va où? is a depiction of this very society, imbued with all cheeky humour and cultural miscommunications of classic comedy, as well as the simmering unease and distrust of an isolated community in tense times. Nevertheless, it is the reality of many countries, but it is a mistake to believe that these communities need be paralysed by fear. Life does not halt to a stop amidst tragedy – it goes on, despite all, and solidifies a bond between all those who have been affected.

Perhaps it is too much to hope that cinema-goers choose this film over the terminally dull summer blockbuster. I have a feeling that if they did, they would realise that “the others” are not terribly different from themselves.