Khane-ye doust kodjast?

(Where Is the Friend's Home, Iran - 1987)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Babek Ahmed Poor, Ahmed Ahmed Poor
Genre: Drama
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Screenplay: Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematography: Farhad Saba
Composer: Amine Allah Hessine
Runtime: 87 minutes

Abbas Kiarostami is a director who has proven plot is of very little importance, if not completely meaningless. More importantly, his work shows the most original films can come from the simplest and theoretically most conventional ideas. The first in a trilogy of films focusing on children in mountainous Northern Iran (followed by Life, and Nothing More... and Through the Olive Trees), this lyrical work follows an 8-year-old boy as he journeys through the country trying to find his classmate so he can give him back his notebook. The notebook is important to the classmate because he'll get expelled if he doesn't do his homework in it one more time, but the self-imposed journey has everything to do with the kid deciding something is important enough to see through.

Kiarostami doesn't include any of the scenes you'd expect. Questions aren't answered and issues aren't really resolved; time simply goes by and eventually dictates what the boy can and can't do. The boy doesn't learn life lessons in the traditional sense and doesn't discover anything grand. However, he learns something about the world, about coexisting with the landscapes and interacting with their inhabitants even if as an outsider and a disrespected member of society he remains somewhat alienated and isolated.

Essentially the only thing conventional about the work, which uses non professionals and doesn't exactly have a script, is the persistence and resilience of the boy. And even that is shown in out of the ordinary ways that do treat him with uncommon respect but neither judge nor aggrandize him. This is a very humanistic work that gives you the child's perspective, but maintains enough distance that we never feel he's larger than life, that he is the world rather than a very small part of it. The barren landscape is ever present and there aren't many other characters or much dialogue, yet this slow moving quasi documentary "real time" film manages to sustain our interest throughout largely because we are discovering the world along with the boy. It's a day in Iranian life through the eyes of a child, showing how separated they are from the adults, among many other things.

All of the characters can be said to have been selected as representatives of the values of their age group. Everyone expects something different from everyone else, making things especially difficult for the child because he's has to maneuver within their conflicting wishes and indifference to his needs and still accomplish his task. One thing that makes Kiarostami exciting is he only tells you a few things about his characters. He purposely avoids three-dimensional characters, instead forcing the audience to identify them through a certain characteristic, at most a dimension of their character and actively imagine the rest.

A carpenter stands for what Kiarostami has to say about the lack of craftsmanship and jokey sales ploys of modern mass-produced goods. He lives in the country making wooden doors that have lasted 45 years and counting, but people who go to the city are conned into replacing them with iron doors because they "last a lifetime". The fact that this elderly man is the only adult who shows any real interest in the boy and takes the time to help him may or may not be intentional. We are not only allowed to imagine but asked to fill in the other 50%, so while I would say it's no coincidence, that may have as much to do with that generation being the most friendly and communal in my own neighborhood. And that is much of what makes Kiarostami great, that everyone sees a different film because it's not one or two forced messages.

The elderly man and the boy also show another rare virtue, Kiarostami's ability to reconcile the past with the present. He manages to be hopeful of youth because they don't have to get stuck in the ways of adults, but to understand that there are a lot of good ways that shouldn't be pushed aside simply because they are long standing.

There's a certain pleasure to life, the surroundings and the architecture that always comes across in Kiarostami's work. It's difficult to put a finger on, but much of the reason it resonates is there aren't any big scenes to distract the audience from its presence. A Hollywood picture is like taking a run on a nearly shoulderless main road with your diskman blaring, while a Kiarostami picture is like taking a stroll on a nature trail. Perhaps the best thing about Iranian cinema is its calming and relaxing nature. There is no less urgency, in fact there's usually more, it's simply put across through more naturalistic means rather than an assault on one's senses.




* Copyright 2006 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *