Religious differences explode against the backdrop of civil war
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Lebanese actress-writer-director Nadine Labaki hits the celluloid equivalent of the ‘difficult second album’ with this expansive, misfiring follow-up to her charming debut, Caramel (2007). While the earlier film kept its ensemble storyline centred on a Beirut hairdresser’s, here the action unfolds in an isolated rural community where Muslims and Christians live in precarious harmony – the myriad of characters leaves the escalating conflict feeling impersonal and diffuse. The key conceit is how women on both sides use their feminine wiles to keep their volatile menfolk from bringing the national conflict into the village, yet Labaki’s tendency to flit back and forth from broad farce to impassioned pleas for peace never allows the film to settle into coherence or credibility. You can’t fault Labaki’s ambition, or her absolute determination to put the women centre stage, but somehow she neglects the basics of storytelling along the way, with occasional songs and a cross-faith romance intermittently present. This is energetic, bursting with sincerity, yet also frustrating and disappointing.