With an important bridge out, the residents of a Middle Eastern village are cut off from the sectarian violence going on around the country. Here, Christians and Muslims live happily together, although the women are worried that news from outside could spark things off again. Determined not to lose their sons to violence again, they come up with a variety of schemes to distract the men from their differences: sabotaging the TV feed, staging a phoney miracle, hiring a group of travelling Ukrainian strippers, lacing the pastries with hash.
Filmmaker Labacki vividly portrays life in this dusty, colourful village. And she undercuts the loose, slapstick tone with serious emotional moments, usually accompanied by the women breaking into heart-rending songs. Intriguingly, this approach turns the village into a fantasy setting, as the noble, poor-but-happy residents try to remain oblivious to violent clashes in neighbouring communities.
Along the way, a few women emerge as strong-willed, resourceful characters.
Moussawbaa is terrific as a mother dealing with a particularly sad tragedy, Maalouf is hilarious as the resourceful wife of the bumbling mayor (Khalil), and Labaki has a sharp presence as a single mother reluctantly courting a nice-guy builder (Farhat). But most of the men are hapless, ignorant thugs who would rather throw a punch than talk to each other. So it's clear that these women have work to do.
By approaching this situation in such a loose way, Labaki simplifies it.
Everything the women do is merely delaying the inevitable collision, treating the symptoms rather than the cause. As a result, the long middle act drags through several silly set pieces as we wait for the story to get to its point.
Thankfully, things do come together in a clever final turn of events. It may be rather glib, but it stops the men (and us) in their tracks.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 14th September 2011
Box Office USA: $0.5M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Fresh: 36 Rotten: 33
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Nadine Labaki
Screenwriter: Rodney Al Haddid, Jihad Hojeily, Nadine Labaki, Sam Mounier