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In his book Democracy in America, French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville claimed that in our fair country, religion had a greater influence on women than it did on men. This was well and good, he said, because religion provided a common morality and women did much to shape the nation’s mores.

I wonder what de Tocqueville would have made of Where Do We Go Now?, a film in which women still shape the mores, but it’s the men who care most about religion — care about it so deeply that they’re willing to kill each other over it. And the women? They get to bury the men, tend the graves, and figure out how to change their lot.

At the story’s outset, a fragile but genuine peace holds sway in the unnamed and isolated Lebanese town. The town’s priest and imam get along, and so does most everyone else — just as long as people don’t talk too much about what’s happening elsewhere. For the women, religion seems more of a social order than anything else. When pretty Christian widow Amale takes a fancy to Muslim Rabih, the gossiping gaggle snipes back and forth about whether he should get baptized or she should take the veil.

But when bad news from outside starts coming in via the town’s lone TV, the women’s effort at sabotage leads, improbably, to the breaking of the cross inside the Christian church. That leads to animals being let into the mosque, and suddenly the men are talking about the violation of sacred spaces and where they’ve stashed the guns.

What follows is not in any way a meditation on religious tolerance. It’s a battle of the sexes, one that manages to be both whimsical and deadly serious. (Like sex.) So you get a scene in which matronly women debate the wisdom of bringing in strippers as a distraction giving way to a scene of a grieving mother screaming at a statue of the Virgin, “Give me back my son!”

And the ladies’ final solution at the finish? It feels designed to get folks talking. It certainly would have given de Tocqueville some new material.

Opens at Landmark’s La Jolla Village 6/08.


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