Tensions are simmering in a remote Lebanese village where Muslim and Christian neighbors have struck an uneasy truce. The mosque and the church may stand side by side, but a fight is likely to erupt over the smallest thing (such as which channel to watch on the communal outdoor television). It’s mostly the men who come to near-blows; the women, who are more apt to break into song and dance, do their best to distract the alphas with everything from feigned miracles to a bused-in gaggle of Russian erotic dancers. But when an unexpected death threatens to tear the village apart, what are these headstrong, harmony-inclined ladies to do? Why, put on Sectarian Violence: The Musical!
Director-cowriter Nadine Labaki—who also stars as one of the beleaguered dames—displays an assured hand with her performers, especially saucy first-timer Yvonne Maalouf, who’s an absolute delight as the mayor’s wisecracking wife. But the filmmaker’s grasp on this inherently uneasy material is much less confident: The tone swings awkwardly between endearingly light-comic (a whimsical romantic subplot between Labaki’s character and a hunky handyman) and confrontationally mournful (the accidental killing of one character becomes an audience-hectoring ploy). And by the time the film takes a glib turn into role-switching farce—as Muslims become Christians and Christians become Muslims—the overall toothlessness of the satire becomes damningly apparent.
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