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Fr-Leb-It-Egy. 2011. 100mins Director Nadine Labaki Production companies Les Films des Tournelles, Pathé, Les Films de Beyrouth, United Artistic Group, Chaocorp, France 2 Cinéma, Prima TV International sales Pathé, www. Producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint Screenplay Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily, Rodney Al Haddad Cinematography Christophe Offenstein Editor Véronique Lange Production designer Cynthia Zahar Music Khaled Mouzanar Main cast Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Layla Hakim, Nadine Labaki, Yvonne Maalouf, Antoinette Noufaily, Julian Farhat, Ali Haidar


In Nadine Labaki’s 2007 debut Caramel, clients at a Beirut beauty salon shared an empathy beyond the religious divide. Following up with Where Do We Go Now? (Et Maintenant On Va Ou?), Labaki extends the remit to form a benign matriarchy in a war-torn village, presumably in her native Lebanon (the precise locale is not specified). Charmingly good-natured and well-intentioned, if occasion-

ally overwrought, Where Do We Go Now? is very broadly drawn and encounters some tonal problems which may see it fall short of Caramel’s success. Its resolutely upbeat and open-hearted approach to conflict resolution could see it win hearts on festi- val and arthouse circuits, however, and Labaki again proves herself capable of drawing the most natural performances from her actors. Perhaps to the detriment of her own plot strand, Labaki also stars as Amale, the village’s Monica Bellucci, who starts out with a kohl-eyed pout but her role and inter-faith romance dwindles away to nothing. In Labaki’s un-named village, Muslims and Christians live

out a tempestuous relationship which is fundamentally loving but prone to hair-trigger outbursts between its aggressively Mediterranean male occupants. The women all get along famously, united in their grief over their lost sons and hus- bands, victims of a seemingly never-ending war. If only the women could take charge… This village is fundamentally cut off from the outside world

due to a broken bridge and is a warmly lit, joyful sort of place (musical interludes, tangerine twilights, fairy lights and candles in the town square as the cuddly mayor gets the only TV to work). Christian mother Amale, who runs a café (shades of Pomegranates And Myrrh) pines for tattooed Muslim decora- tor Rabih (Farhat). But unlike the women, who march together to the cemetery

before filing off in different directions to mourn, the men are prone to bovine outbursts of rage which escalate simmering religious tensions. They are apparently being provoked by a prankster who puts blood in the water font and opens the door of the mosque to let in the goats (though this plot strand also peters out, along with Amale and Rabih’s romance). The women bond together to keep the peace as the men work

against it in various push-and-pull scenarios which are deftly executed by Labaki. They cut the wires to the TV to block out the news, disconnect the radio and even pay a band of Ukrainian showgirls to pretend to be stranded for a week in order to dis- tract their menfolk. But then the men’s shoes are stolen from outside the mosque and the village seemingly cannot withstand another outbreak of hostilities. A push into high drama leads it into deeper, more

anguished, territory but without the requisite support frame- work. Technically, though, Labaki’s film is as warm and wel- coming as the women on screen and her message a very timely reminder of the issues at hand.

May 18, 2011 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival 15 n

Fr. 2011. 105mins Director Eva Ionesco Production company Les Productions Bagheera International sales Urban Distribution International, Producer Francois Marquis Screenplay Eva Ionesco, Marc Cholodenko, Philippe Le Guay Cinematography Jeanne Lapoirie Editor Laurence Briaud Music Bertrand Burgalat Main cast Isabelle Huppert, Anamaria Vartolomei, Georgetta Leahu, Denis Lavant, Jethro Cave

My Little Princess BY ALLAN HUNTER

Painful personal experience is distilled into poignant drama in Eva Ionesco’s promising first feature, My Little Princess. Auto- biographical events from the 1970s are shaped into a fairytale- like narrative illuminating the abusive nature of Ionesco’s relationship with her mother, Irina, and eternal arguments over the limits of artistic freedom. The notoriety of the Ionesco family history in France allied to

the powerful performances of Isabelle Huppert and stunning newcomer Anamaria Vartolomei should gain the film wide atten- tion domestically, and there are enough marketable elements to lend it some modest cachet for international arthouse distributors. In the 1970s, Ionesco’s mother rocked the Paris art world with

photographs of her naked, pre-pubescent daughter. Ionesco recalls her mother began posing her when she was just four. In My Little Princess, Violetta (Vartolomei) is 10 when wildly unconventional mother Hanna (Huppert) takes the fun of dressing up in old clothes to a different level. Soon, Hanna has the career and acclaim she has always desired while Violetta is both seduced and appalled by her sudden elevation into an adoring adult world. The core of My Little Princess is the love-hate relationship

between mother and daughter, who clash so frequently because they seem so alike in temperament. Huppert brings a feverish edge to Hanna, suggesting the restlessness of an older woman perhaps only too aware time and society are not on her side. The character takes her inspiration from the glamour of old Hollywood, and in her frizzy blonde hair and lushly coloured gowns, Huppert’s Hanna is like a cross between Jean Harlow and Baby Jane. Vartolomei was only 10 when the film was shot, but brings an

astonishing emotional maturity to her character, conveying the conflicting emotions within Violetta and the righteous anger that may have saved her from her mother’s clutches. Violetta has been encouraged to admire the beauty and tenacity of Marlene Diet- rich, so it seems entirely plausible that she responds so enthusias- tically to dressing and posing in the manner of The Blue Angel. Her mother’s need for her as a model invests Hanna with a

sense of power and self-worth, but also steals the innocence of her childhood and removes her from the world of her peers. As the mother increasingly chooses to sexualise her daughter,

Violetta turns into a Lolita figure, standing forlornly in the school playground in tight hot-pants, swaggering into the classroom in full make-up and the kind of clothes which could only be deemed inappropriate. Throughout the film, costume designer Catherine Baba does a fantastic job of finding clothes and accessories that define the characters and reflect the changes in their lives. Ionesco directs the film with a pensive detachment and never

judges the characters. She shies away from the more experimen- tal sensibility that a director like Todd Haynes or Tom Kalin might have brought to the transgressive material, creating a more conventional but also more accessible piece of storytelling. She captures a genuine sense of the affection that permeates these troubled, claustrophobic lives, making what happens to them all the more upsetting.

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