Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
Written by: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Babak Ahmadpour, Ahmad Ahmadpour, Kheda Barech Defai
When given a real moment of inspiration, children know how to fixate on one particular task until its completion. A level of focus adults would not believe. It could derive from fear or a prize at the end. The little boy followed in Where is the Friend’s Home? allows him to go on this painstaking journey, which would be so easy here in contemporary times, but becomes an immense challenge.
The very young Ahmed (Babek Ahmedpour) attends a small all-boys school where his teacher has specific expectations for his students. They must do their homework and it must be completed within a notebook instead of loose paper. After Ahmed accidentally takes the notebook of another student in addition to his, he tries his best to return it to him before they go to school the next day.
The minimalist style of director Abbas Kiarostami may be jarring for someone watching his films at a first glance. He seems to enjoy telling incredibly simple stories in non-imaginative locations, but render such beauty and pain within them. It becomes clear in Close-Up and Taste of Cherry but he does it the best in Where is the Friend’s Home? For me, it comes down to the beautiful innocence exuded by the young actor and how pure the story and the journey becomes. By fusing the childlike obsession with getting something done, Kiarostami merges his greatest sensibilities with an innocence that keeps you engaged throughout.
If you read the plot synopsis written above then you know the entire story of the film. No real surprises or flashy twists. The story is all about a young boy attempting to return a notebook he mistakenly took to his classmate, but everything else surrounding it gives it a strong sense of purpose and displays why Ahmed feels he must correct his mistake. It comes from seeing the strict nature of the teacher and how he chastises anyone who forgets to complete their homework in the specific way he asks. We get a taste of that in the scene in the classroom, where you understand why the teacher has the parameters, but his way of encouraging it may not be the best. Again, I am not a teacher so I’m not in a place to correct him on his methods. It gets to the point of being uncomfortable sitting there as we see the teacher embarrass a student, who forgot to complete the homework in the notebook. It only makes it more pressing when Ahmed accidentally takes that specific classmate’s notebook. Not only did he have to watch his classmate endure the ridicule but it will happen again the next day if he cannot get the notebook back to him.
Thus the scene is set and the journey for Ahmed to find the house of Mohamed Reza Nematzadeh. A name you will not forget after watching this film from the sheer amount of times Ahmed states it. Ahmed’s journey to the house becomes no walk in the park because the students in his class come from varying distances and our young protagonist has never been to Mohamed Reza Nematzadeh’s house. The time and place Ahmed lives in does not come with iPhones where he can contact Mohamed Reza Nematzadeh and ask him where he lives or even inform him that he has his notebook. Instead, Ahmed must try to figure it out without the help of any adults, who do nothing but ignore him.
It becomes a major theme of the movie with the number of times Ahmed must repeat himself to get his point across and ask for help from those meant to be guides for children. The journey begins with his mother and how he attempts to convince her to let him go and return the book. Ahmed’s mother insists that he must finish his homework before he can go out and play. Ahmed insists that he’s not doing this to go out and play rather he’s attempting to help out a classmate. His mother did not appear to be amused and continues to tell him to do his homework. Now, as the audience, we find ourselves on the side of Ahmed and how he wants to help another person and the homework can wait. However, I do not have kids yet so I would not begrudge anyone who watched this scene take place and would side with the mother in telling him to sit down and finish his homework before doing anything else. It allows for two ways to experience the scene.
The interaction between Ahmed and his mother becomes the first of many instances where he attempts to explain his intentions to an adult and the way they simply ignore him. Almost a “Charlie Brown” level of adult guardianship. With barely any adults helping him, finding the house becomes such a challenge, which I did not envy one bit. Ahmed finds several roadblocks where directions lead him to different places and then told to turn around because he ended up in the wrong place. It shows just how easy we have it with the technological advances in our time. The more time transpires with Ahmed getting no closer to finding the home of Mohamed Reza Nematzadeh, the more tense everything feels because of the guilt growing larger in the mind of Ahmed. He knows what will occur if he does not return the notebook with sufficient time and it makes the rest of the story incredibly tense.
Simple in its construction but beautifully profound and eloquent in its meaning, Where is the Friend’s House? casts such an adorable child in Babek Ahmedpour to portray Ahmed, which made me want to help him in this journey and yell at the adults refusing to help him. The goal of this quest has such an innocence, which makes it difficult to want things to end badly in the slightest sense. It shows the power of camaraderie and what kids are willing to do when they seek to protect someone they consider a friend.