Where Is The Friend’s Home? (1987) خانه دوست کجاست

Country: Iran
Languange: Persian
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Running Time: 83 minutes
Starring: Babek Ahmed Poor, Ahmed Ahmed Poor, Kheda Barech Defai, Iran Outari, Ait Ansari

Theme: Culture (Friendship)

Ratings: IMDb.com: 7.8/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Film Festivals:
1987 Fajr Film Festival
1989 Locarno International Film Festival

Awards:
1987 Fajr Film Festival: Golden Plate for Best Director / Special Jury Award
1989 Locarno International Film Festival: Bronze Leopard / FIPRESCI Prize – Special Mention / Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention

Nominations:
1989 Locarno International Film Festival: Golden Leopard

Where Is The Friend’s Home? (1987) by Abbas Kiarostami is considered the first film in Kiarostami’s Koker trilogy, which also includes follow-ups such as And Life Goes On (1992) and Through the Olive Trees (1994). But the director has also claimed that it might be better to take Taste of Cherry (1997) as the third film whilst omitting Where Is The Friend’s Home? because of the running narrative theme of “the preciousness of life” (Cheshire, 1999).

The film is deceptively boring yet intelligently simple. It tells the story of a young boy, Ahmed, who travels from Koker, a rural town of Iran, to a neighboring village to return the notebook of a schoolmate, Reda, that he had accidentally picked up by mistake. Ahmed deems this act important because his friend had been harshly reprimanded earlier on in the day because of not doing his homework on the notebook as it was in the hands of another classmate. The teacher threatens to expel Reda, who promptly burst into tears at the unfairness of the situation. It is not as if he did not complete his homework – he merely did it on loose sheets of paper that could very well have been pasted back into his notebook after all. This thereby creates an unsettling scene as Kiarostami plants Ahmed, who sits next to Reda within a few frames as well, thus capturing his uneasiness at the situation amid a sense of not knowing how to react to console Reda. Thus lies the root of the title of the movie, as the conscientious schoolboy sneaks out of home alone, for the first time, and attempts to search for Reda’s home.

Kiarostami’s movie is very affective, as there is nothing more that can capture one’s attention and draw the viewer in other than the raw emotions of a young child. You cannot help but root for Ahmed in his quest to fulfill his the sense of civic duty, and to uphold the basic loyalty one should have for a good friend. Adults here are portrayed in a bad light in the movie which acts as a very good social commentary of how Iran might be at that point of time. Adults are portrayed as strait-laced single-minded people who are, to say the least, unreasonable. The teacher is hypocritical and exercises double standard, himself not fulfilling the duties of a teacher and arriving late for class. Yet, unless punctuality is not a virtue that is condoned in the Iranian society, he turns a blind eye on the student that arrives later than him. How would this impart the correct moral values into the young children? Further, Ahmed’s mother is unwilling to listen to reason, even when Reda had willingly lent his notebook to Ahmed in the first place – which morally and rightfully gives Ahmed the impetus to ensure the notebook is returned to Reda. She even says at one point in time, “Serves him right. He deserves to be expelled.” Thankfully, the innocent children tend to be the most self-righteous in their actions (yet another similarity could be drawn to Tietou in Tian Zhuangzhuang’s 1993 film The Blue Kite). In the middle of the movie, we see Ahmed’s grandfather resting by the roadside. He proclaims “I want the child to be brought up properly” but a few scenes later sends Ahmed away to buy him a packet of cigarettes. He also says, “Anyway, I’ll find an excuse to give a beating every fortnight.” How does introducing a vice to a young boy constitute “proper” upbringing?

The movie is engaging in its numerous still shots and long takes that introduce the lives of the average proletariat Iranian family. Through a series of medium (thanks Hui Ping!) shots in the first scenes within the house, we see tension in the family taken between the mother and the son contrasted against still shots. Further, a wide establishing shot is captured as Ahmed runs up the slope on a barren hill, framed with a solitary tree standing naked against the background. This framing thus creates an impression of the height and depth of the field, whilst filling the empty space that would otherwise have been the horizon atop the hill. The camera follows the 180º rule strictly in Ahmed’s running sequence in the medium shots. As he runs out of one frame to the right, he is shown running back into the frame from the right.

I also cannot bear but note the anachronism this film contains. Being set in the 1980s, an age where mobile phones are not prevalent, a promise is a promise. There is thus no way in reneging a promise or a deal, nor will there be a way in the movie for Ahmed to reach out to Reda via a simple text message (you’d be surprised at what age children today start owning a handphone), who probably thought that he had misplaced his notebook and who was probably fearing the worse from the teacher the next day. This stands in stark contrast to a denigration of such virtues in present-day society, what with the increasing interconnectivity between people that thus has led to an ease in contacting people.

References

Cheshire, G. (1999). Taste of cherry. Retrieved on November 19, 2010, from http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/55-taste-of-cherry

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Crimson Gold (2003) طلای سرخ

Country: Iran
Language: Persian
Director: Jafar Panahi (written by Abbas Kiarostami)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi, Azita Rayeji, Shahram Vaziri, Ehsan Amani, Pourang Nakhael, Koveh Najmabadi, Saber Safael

Theme: Crime

Ratings: IMDb.com: 7.5/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Film Festivals:
2003 Cannes Film Festival
(Un Certain Regard Section)
2003 Chicago International Film Festival
2004 Tbilisi International Film Festival
2003 Valladolid International Film Festival

Awards:
2003 Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard Jury Prize)
2003 Chicago International Film Festival: Gold Hugo for Best Film
2004 Tbilisi International Film Festival: Golden Prometheus  (Jafar Panahi)
2003 Valladolid International Film Festival: Golden Spike  (Jafar Panahi)

Crimson Gold (2003) is directed by Jafar Panahi, one of esteemed filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s protégés, and who has earned recognition from film theorists as well as won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival (for The Circle (2000)) and Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival (for Offside (2006)). Considered one of the most influential filmmakers in the Iranian New Wave movement, he takes after Kiarostami in courting controversy in the movies he have been producing. This has spawned his sudden arrest in March this year, only to be released on bail in May as the Iranian government came under the close scrutiny of the international cinematic community. Acclaimed filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers among others, as well as film societies and film festivals around the world were part of a petition movement trying to force the hand of the Iranian government into releasing Panahi, an arrest that has also been condemned by human rights organizations around the world. Cannes Best Actress Juliette Binoche also dedicated part of her award-winning speech for Kiarostami’s Certified Copy to drawing attention to Panahi’s plight. He currently still stands on trial, allegedly for “making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed election”, according to Iran’s Culture Minister (AFP, 2010). But his wife has since denied claims that this was true.

Panahi’s style has been described as neorealist, and this is evident in Crimson Gold that explores humanitarian themes within Iranian cinema without sensationalizing the political and social messages. He embraces the “tension between documentary immediacy and a set of strictly defined formal parameters” amid “an overtly expressed anger at the restrictions that Iranian society imposes” (Wilson, 2006).

This is clearly evident in Crimson Gold. Albeit a crime film, it is not a sensational one that focuses on the violence, although its poster might semiotically depict otherwise given the image of a man pointing a gun to his own brain. The main character is Hussein who appears to be attempting to rob a jeweler shop in the opening scene. He shoots the Jeweler, and then takes his own life as well as the Jeweler sounds the alarm. Whether his intent was suicidal in the first place is up for contention, but the movie, executed in a flashback sequence with the execution in the first scene, is particularly affective as it goes through the travails of Hussein’s life – his psychological trauma of dealing with war experience, being on medication, and being ostracized and condescened upon in the throes of mainstream society due to his lower class status. This class struggle takes central theme throughout the entire movie, whether in Hussein striking a rapport with a fellow law enforcement officer of the same social status, or observing with chagrin the difference in policial treatment of the wealthy and the poor, an allegory of corruption that might not have fared well with the authorities.

The sociopolitical themes that run deep under the guise of a simple bank robbery are impossible to ignore, and provides a social commentary as to the social ills of contemporary Iranian society of the day. And the flurry of moviemakers from Iran hold a precious key at helping the international community unlock the increasing alienated state of Iran that is being placed on terrorism watch and accused of engaging in nuclear development in the Axis of Evil. We see a case study of brutal class realities, but which is banned in Iran itself supposedly for being too “dark” in portraying the themes of powerlessness in the face of an authoritarian society.

References

Agence France-Presse. (2010). Panahi arrested for making anti-regime film: minister. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hgegozlEasjeFkmeza6Lm8o5VmGg

Willson, J. (2006, September 26). A mirror under the veil – and inside the stadium. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.theage.com.au/news/film/getting-kicks-in-iran/2006/09/25/1159036473351.html

 

Taste of Cherry (1997) طعم گيلاس

Country: Iran
Language: Persian, Dari
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Running Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Homayon Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari, Safar Ali Moradi

Theme: Death

Ratings: IMDb.com: 7.4/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

Film Festivals:
1997 Cannes Film Festival

Awards:
1997 Cannes Film Festival: Palme d’Or
(tied with Shohei Imamura’s Unagi)
1998 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards: BSFC Award for Best Foreign Language Film
1999 National Society of Film Critics Awards: NSFC Award for Best Foreign Language Film

Nominations:
1999 Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards: Silver Condor for Best Foreign Film
1999 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards: CFCA Award for Best Foreign Language Film

Abbas Kiarostami is a defining figure in Iranian cinema, the prolific and versatile 70-year-old director not shying away from controversial issues or avant-garde cinematic techniques in his massive repertoire. Ten (2002) for instance, highlights the socio-political landscape of Iran through the eyes of a woman as she drives through and speaks to ten strangers in Tehran over several days. There is no forgetting Shirin (2008), too, a movie featuring a series of simple close-up shots of female faces as they appear to be watching a film that can only be heard through dialogue in the background. Their raw visceral emotions are captured all too naturally in the film that premiered at Venice International Film Festival.

Though being released over a decade ago, Taste of Cherry (1997) is no different in terms of its stance. The film deals with suicide, a cause célèbre that is frowned upon in contemporary Islamic societies as it goes against Muslim beliefs, yet widely embraced by terror extremists today in its martyr acts. The protagonist is Mr Badii (Homayon Ershadi), and the camera becomes a voyeur in a cinema vérité technique that is used to document the moments leading up to Mr Badii’s eventual demise. But this death is only implied and not shown on the camera. We don’t see his body, and the audience is left to decide for themselves what happened in an open ending that throws up a lot of moral principle disputes surrounding professionalism towards a job that is paid for versus one’s own values and beliefs. Will you participate in burying a random stranger who has commited suicide—because he has given up on himself and the world—in a business dealing that sees a lot of money at stake?

And this is what happened in the minimalist film. Mr Badii drives through a city suburb looking for someone who could carry out the task. The irony is clear – there are innumerable unemployed laborers clambering at his car asking whether he was hiring any as he drives through the city. At every traffic junction, there are bound to be some laborers who approached Mr Badii, the implication of the luxury of owning a car in Iran at those times. Yet he fends them off and opts not to speak to them. He has his eyes set only on particular strangers to whom he has acquired a liking and the right feeling to. A greater paradox is how Mr Badii appears to have it all with the wealth he possesses but yet decided to end it all, in contrast to the unemployed laborers who meander on with the everyday fruitlessness of their lives.

There is the cowardly, young cadet who gladly accepts the ride of a stranger but was so frightened about the job that he flees from the car despite being in the middle of nowhere. There is the religious seminarist who preaches on and on about his religion’s point of view against suicide, but to no avail. And there is a taxidermist who once contemplated suicide, and it is this character—who has been there and (almost) done that—whom can best empathize with the feeling of wanting to end it all.

Many long takes comprise of the shot, and the movie meanders along a leisurely pace that does not feel draggy, primarily because of the reflections that it encourages. Erstwhile, long-range distance shots are interspersed with proximity close-ups that create a jarring contrast in the perception of the size of an individual in contrast to the magnitude of the world.

It is frustrating from the audience point of view as Kiarostami totally shirks away from revealing the reason behind Mr Badii’s suicide intent. But this creates manifold consequences. First, from the perspective of the film, it does not allow the audience any leeway to create a judgment of Mr Badii for his decisions to end his life, of whether his motivation is a valid one or not. He is “relentless” (Santas, 2000) in not revealing his reasons, and the triviality of this motivation is cast against the greater deed of commit suicide, and we see Mr Badii meander through the final desolate moments of his life. More importantly, the film encourages the audience to reflect and look upon oneself as a judgmental soul. How often has one’s judgment impeded one’s view from the bigger picture, or colored one’s point of view against the actions of an individual? That is, indeed, my biggest takeaway from watching this minimalistic film, rather than the moralistic dilemma faced by Mr Badii throughout the film. And this, is perhaps what makes the film so powerful and so deserving of the Palme d’Or it clinched at Cannes 1997.

References

Santas, C. (2000) Concepts of Suicide in Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry. Retrieved on October 1, 2010, from http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/9/taste.html.