Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s I for Iran: A History of Iranian Cinema. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Charming, engaging and humane, Abbas Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987) was the first film by the Iranian director to gain significant attention outside of his home country. In this simple tale, young Mohamed Reda Nematzadeh (Ahmed Ahmed Poor) is scolded by his teacher (Kheda Barech Defai), not for failing to do his homework, but for failing to write it all down in his notebook. Nematzadeh had forgotten his notebook before, and the teacher tells the eight-year-old that if he forgets again, he will be expelled. When school is let out, Mohamed Reda and his friend Ahmed (Babek Ahmed Poor) horse around, as young boys do, but when Ahmed gets to his home in Koker, he realizes he has accidentally taken Mohamed Reda’s notebook. Deeply concerned, Ahmed is determined to return the notebook to his friend in the nearby village of Poshteh, even though his mother forbids it.
Charming, engaging and humane, Abbas Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987) was the first film by the Iranian director to gain significant attention outside of his home country.
Ahmed’s frustration with the world quickly becomes our own. The teacher is far more concerned with instilling discipline in the students than teaching them grammar or arithmetic; later, Ahmed’s grandfather pontificates at length on the same topic, and it’s clear both men conflate discipline with blind obedience. In fact, the entire world seems to do the same, with Ahmed weathering an endless stream of responsibilities and rules and demands, many contradictory, some even impossible. The same adults who demand so much from him can’t be bothered to listen to what he says, though, and even his own mother assumes her boy, who has been nothing but sensitive and trustworthy throughout the film, is an irresponsible liar whose friend must surely deserve expulsion — after all, an adult has said as much, so it must be true.
It all sounds maddening, but life in Where is the Friend’s Home? is so fully and gently rendered by Kiarostami that one can’t help but chuckle in recognition at the behavior of the adults. We understand the mother who has no time for tomfoolery and the minor irritations that overwhelm the teacher, including a classroom door that comes unlatched so often it’s practically a Mack Sennett gag. We’re moved, too, when Mohamed Reda cries after being scolded, and when Ahmed is overcome with empathy at his friend’s plight.
Featuring a barely-there plot and cast of non-actors, Where is the Friend’s Home? has the feel of a pleasant — and deceptively straightforward — documentary. The two small villages of Koker and Poshteh, linked by a short path filled with the kind of zigzags that triple one’s travel time, seem quiet and peaceful on the surface, but just underneath are lives filled with complicated business dealings and large, sprawling families, each generation experiencing their own kind of emotional distance from friends, neighbors and even their own children.
Young Ahmed lives in this almost-magical reality, yet is one of cinema’s most grounded, realistic and delightful heroes.
Interestingly, those children were born in the year of the Iranian Revolution, and Ahmed’s plight shows a resistance to authoritarianism that one could argue has political context. Yet his insistence on doing the right thing seems far more personal than political, as do the unconcerned parents and older adults too busy heaping undeserved praise on the past to understand anything about the younger generations. The elderly blacksmith who helps Ahmed through the darkened streets of Poshteh speaks lovingly of the doors he created decades ago, many still in use, their intricate designs illuminated by warm light coming from inside the homes. He’s a nice guy and proud of his work, but he can’t understand why 40-year-old doors would need to be replaced; one supposes Ahmed’s teacher could give the old blacksmith a few reasons why.
Where is the Friend’s Home? perfectly captures the life of children at an age where they have begun to develop their own morals and ethics, yet are still struggling to understand much about life that doesn’t make sense. In their world, an errand turns into a fable, and wind and rain and nightfall are scary and exciting simply because they exist. Young Ahmed lives in this almost-magical reality, yet is one of cinema’s most grounded, realistic and delightful heroes.
Where is the Friend's Home? perfectly captures the life of children at an age where they have begun to develop their own morals and ethics, yet are still struggling to understand much about life that doesn't make sense.