Written, directed, and edited by Abbas Kiarostami, Where is the Friend’s House? is the story of a schoolboy who tries to return a classmate’s notebook at a nearby village in the hopes that the classmate doesn’t get expelled from school. The film is the first of a trilogy of films set in the rural village of Koker, Iran as it plays into a boy trying to do what is right amidst the pressure of doing well in school. Starring Babak Ahmadpour, Ahmed Ahmadpour, Kheda Barech Defai, Iran Outari, Ait Ansari, and Biman Mouafi. Where is the Friend’s House? is a touching and somber film from Abbas Kiarostami.
The film is the simple story of an eight-year old boy who learned that he has a notebook that belongs to his classmate, who is already in trouble with a threat of expulsion, as he decides to go to a nearby village to return it only to try and find his whereabouts. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to play into its simplicity as it has someone wanting to try and do the right thing and not see his classmate be expelled and get into serious trouble. There’s not a lot of plot that goes on in Abbas Kiarostami’s script as it’s more about a boy trying to do what is right as he ventures from his home village of Koker to a nearby village over the hill. In this nearby village, he asks neighbors and such while trying also to get bread for his family and cigarettes for his grandfather who watches him go up and down the hill.
Kiarostami’s direction is understated for its approach to simplicity as it is shot on location in Koker as it is this wondrous location that is a key part of the story. The image of the hill and its wide shot display the journey that Ahmed (Babak Ahmadpour) has to endure going up and down this zig-zag roadway. Kiarostami’s usage of wide and medium shots do give scope to these locations that include wandering camera shots of Ahmed running through a small forest and then running up a smaller hill of tombstones. The medium shots play more into the location of the village nearby Koker as it is largely a stony village where Ahmed is trying to find the right house despite some of the vague descriptions the locals have told him. Kiarostami’s close-ups add to the situation that Ahmed is in as he is desperate to find the home of his classmate Mohamed Reza Nematzadeh (Ahmed Ahmadpour) who is already in trouble for not being able to do his work or turn in his notebook.
Also serving as the film’s editor, Kiarostami doesn’t aim for anything stylish in the visuals or in the editing but rather just keep things simple. Notably in the editing as Kiarostami knows when to cut for an emotional reaction yet chooses to keep shots linger for a bit such as a conversation between Ahmed’s grandfather (Rafia Difai) and his friend (Ali Jamali) about discipline. It’s a theme that is at stake as Ahmed is someone that wants to do in school, do his homework, and help his family but doesn’t want Mohamed Reza to be expelled. Kiarostami would also have Ahmed meet an old man (Sadika Tohidi) who shows him the things he built while making claims that he knows where Mohamed Reza lives. There is something mystical in that scene as it takes place at night as the entire film takes place in the span of 24 hours as it opens and ends with the scene in the classroom as its ending is more about what Ahmed does than the fate of Mohamed Reza. Overall, Kiarostami crafts a touching and somber film about a boy trying to return a classmate’s notebook in the hopes that the boy doesn’t get expelled from school.
Cinematographer Farhad Saba does brilliant work with the film’s photography as it is largely straightforward to play into the usage of available and natural light for the scenes in the day as well as some stylish lighting for a few scenes set at night. Production designer Reza Nami does excellent work with the look of the classroom as well as the home that Ahmed and his family live in. Costume designer Hassan Zahidi does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward including the brown pants that Mohamed Reza wears which Ahmed sees thinking it’s his pants. Sound editor Changiz Sayad does superb work with the sound as it captures a lot of the natural sounds on location to maintain a raucous yet somber atmosphere. The film’s music by Amine Allah Hessine is amazing for its discordant and folk-driven string playing as it adds to the drama and suspense that occurs in the film.
The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Iran Outari and Ayat Ansari as Ahmed’s parents, Biman Mouafi as a neighbor named Ali, Rafia Difai as Ahmed’s grandfather, Ali Jamali as the grandfather’s friend, and Sadika Tohidi as the Persian neighbor who used to create doors and such for people in his home village and at Koker. Kheda Barech Defai is terrific as the schoolteacher as someone who might seem like a stern disciplinarian but is also someone who tells his students about what they have to face as he is also sympathetic to what they do at home. Ahmed Ahmedpour is excellent as Mohamed Reza Nematzadeh as a young boy who has already gotten in trouble for not doing his homework and is facing the threat of expulsion if he doesn’t do his homework. Finally, there’s Babek Ahmedpour in a brilliant performance as Ahmed as a young boy who mistakenly took his classmate’s notebook and wants to return it as there is an air of realism in his performance to play into the plight he’s in and the noble thing he is trying to do for his classmate.
Where is the Friend’s House? is a tremendous film from Abbas Kiarostami. Featuring its understated yet entrancing visuals, a simplistic story, and its approach to realism in an area not seen often in films. It is definitely a touching yet engrossing film that isn’t afraid to be simple as well as tell a story of a boy just wanting to help a classmate. In the end, Where is the Friend’s House? is a magnificent film from Abbas Kiarostami.
Abbas Kiarostami Films: (The Experience) – The Traveler (1974 film) - (A Wedding) – The Report (1977 film) - (First Case, Second Case) – (Fellow Citizens) – (First Graders) – Homework (1989 film) – Close-Up - Life, and Nothing More… – Through the Olive Trees – Taste of Cherry - (The Wind Will Carry Us) – (ABC Africa) – (Ten (2002 film)) – (Five (2003 film)) – (10 on Ten) – (Shirin) – Certified Copy - Like Someone in Love - 24 Frames
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