19/11/2010 2 Comments
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%
1987 Fajr Film Festival
1989 Locarno International Film Festival
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
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.
Cheshire, G. (1999). Taste of cherry. Retrieved on November 19, 2010, from http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/55-taste-of-cherry