by Aaron West
Abbas Kiarostami’s introduction to the (unofficial) Koker Trilogy, Where is my Friend’s House? (also referred to as Where the the Friend’s Home? is a story of a moral journey. It parallels with one of Kiarostami’s better known films, A Taste of Cherry because they both portray the protagonist on different and morally contrasting quests. In Cherry, Mr. Badil is intent on finding someone to commit an act that may go against his morals, even if it might mean peace and an end to a man’s misery. Few wish to assist him in this act. Conversely, Ahmed, is on a journey to save his friend from suffering consequences for a mistake that Ahmed made.
Ahmed is reprimanded at school by a strict teacher for using the wrong type of paper for his homework and threatened with expulsion. While helping his friend, Nematzedeh, pick up their books, he accidentally ends up with his notebook. Having felt the pressures at school of turning in the wrong homework, Ahmed does the right thing and searches for his friend to return his notebook. The only problem is he does not know where this friend lives, only that he lives in Poshteh, which is a long ways from the school. He decides to spend his evening searching for this friend in order to return the notebook, hoping that he will find help along the way to direct him to his friend’s house.
Both films show the protagonist traveling back and forth along familiar terrain. Through the journey, they meet many individuals whose assistance they want to recruit in carrying out their task. In Cherry, it is to end one’s life; in Friend, it is to save another’s skin. Ahmed, however benevolent, is naive and confused, even lost for much of the time He is a child and helpless to find his friend without the assistance of others. The adult is self-assured, committed to the task at hand, but he also requires others to carry out his task. The child pleads for the assistance of the adults, appealing towards their good nature to help a child with a predicament, whereas the adult tries to manipulate people to do something contrary to what they believe is right with the promise of financial recompense.
Where is my Friend’s House? stands on it’s own as a well-constructed and brilliantly conceived film, which rightfully put Kiarostami on the international cinema map. It is a prescient tale of the innocence and benevolence of children, contrasted with the selfishness and apathy of adults. While it may not be fair to compare it to Kiarostami’s award-winning film from a decade later, I believe that the filmmaker was deliberate in creating such a contrast and using many of the same storytelling methods in both films. In that sense, they pair together well.
Ahmed is the moral compass of the film. He is virtuous and altruistic, who will wander the dark and dangerous streets of Poshteh and Koker simply to help another. The adults in this film do not show an inkling of Ahmed’s compassion. They are self-interested and few want to be inconvenienced by helping him. The teacher that initiates this potential punishment is harsh and authoritarian, intending to discipline children simply because he believes that irrational rules will lead them to become obedient. This is even vocalized by another older man in the movie, that children need discipline in order to be kept in line. Ahmed is perfectly kind and generous in spite of the the fact that he has been unfairly maligned and threatened. Through Ahmed rather than the parents, Kiarostami is showing us where real morality lies. Compassion should not have an expiration date.