Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Abbas Kiarostami | خانه دوست کجاست‎‎ (Khane-ye doust kodjast) Where Is the Friend’s Home?

over there
by Douglas Messerli

Abbas Kiarostami (writer and director) خانه دوست کجاست‎‎ (Khane-ye doust kodjast) Where Is the Friend’s Home? / 1987
Like many of Abbas Kiarostami works, Where Is the Friend’s Home? (I prefer the translation, Where Is My Friend’s House?) has the slightest of plots. A young boy, Mohamed Reda Nematzadeh (Ahmed Ahmedpour) gets into trouble in school when he shows up for the second time with his homework missing in his notebook. The teacher tells him that next time he will be expelled, and the young child breaks into uncontrollable tears, much to the disconcertion of his fellow classmates, particularly Mohamed’s friend, Ahmed (Babek Ahmedpour). 

Mohamed, from the outlying village of Koker, and is often late arriving at school, and we immediately know that in the very isolation of the village he must suffer other difficulties as well.

      Indeed, we gradually perceive, all of these children must take on responsibilities at home that, despite their parents’ insistence that they do their homework, makes it difficult for them to achieve. Even Ahmed, living in a middle class home, is forced to help with his mother’s new  baby, tending to its needs and rocking the child whenever it cries. He also is expected to daily go out to purchase the family’s bread. When he finally settles down to do his homework, he discovers that he has accidentally also taken home his friend’s notebook home, the fact of which he attempts to explain to his parents, who refuse to listen. Accordingly, Ahmed goes on his own journey to faraway Koker to find his friend and return his notebook.
      The significance of this film is his pluck and determination to find Mohamed in a world which seems to have no real streets and in which houses are hidden.

 An early passerby tells the boy that Mohamed lives “over there” in the house with the blue door. But the boy (and the camera that follows him) has no concept of where “over there” might be, as if it might be a Samuel Beckett stage direction; and many of the houses he does find have blue doors. 
       Indeed, before film’s end, doors and windows become a kind of subtheme in this work, as Ahmed later meets a door and window maker, who also has difficulty in telling him where his friend’s family lives, despite his declaration that he has made most the doors and windows for the houses in the village.

       When Ahmed finally seems to have found the right house, there is no one home. Another family invites him in to share their dinner, and there he finally does the homework assignment in his friend’s notebook in order to save the boy from being expelled.
        What we perceive is that these children, encouraged as they are to become educated, are  being abused by parents who are quick to involve them in adult duties. Certainly, there is no playtime allowed in their world.

        Yet, the children seem obedient and uncomplaining. If nothing else, they are a hardy lot, proven, quite simply, by the long voyage Ahmed undergoes for his friend’s sake. And the caring and loyalty these two boys show for one another gives strong evidence to their moral values. Despite the seeming harshness of their lives, the director suggests, their parents have somehow imbued them with lessons of civic duty and instilled in them a need to be responsible for their acts. Indeed, Ahmed’s late-evening voyage is an act almost of heroism, where he has been willing to enter a strange new land in search of his suffering friend to save him. Without an education, we must remember, there will be no successful future for this village boy.

      In the end, accordingly, we do not feel the necessity of judging either the parents or the two boys, but simply join the boy on his voyage, observing the very different worlds into the film  takes us. Both adults and children live somewhat harsh lives in this isolated section of Iran, which makes it all the more amazing that these children want to learn, even if the method of rote recitation might be questionable as the best method of education.
     Kiarostami obviously became enchanted with the mysterious Koker, where things seem to go up and down rather than spiral out into orderly streets and avenues, and he devoted his next two films, And Live Goes On and Through the Olive Trees to the same northern Iran village, creating what critics have described as his Koker trilogy.

Los Angeles, March 21, 2017

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