Where Is the Friend’s House? (1987) tells the simple story of a schoolboy in Iran’s hinterlands who accidentally brings a friend’s notebook home and then tries desperately to locate the boy in a neighbouring town in order to return it.
At the end of the 1990s the American magazine Film Comment polled a coterie of film critics and voted Abbas Kiarostami the most important director of the decade. This was the culmination of what began when a number of enterprising critics and cinephiles first took special notice of Where Is the Friend’s House? The film combines elements of documentary and something close to folklore. Pensively philosophical, unusually compassionate, and formally idiosyncratic, it is a film that has imprinted itself indelibly on nearly all who have seen it.
Kiarostami had already been making films for nearly twenty years when Where is the Friend’s House? started making a splash. The bulk of his earlier output generally consisted of documentaries, often pedagogical, dealing with children, school, and other social institutions. In the years before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Kiarostami worked under the aegis of the Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, a state organization founded by the shah’s wife. Films like Kiarostami’s The Traveler (1974), Amir Naderi’s The Runner (1984), and Bahram Beyzai’s Bashu, the Little Stranger (1989) were part of an emerging pattern of Iranian cinema focusing on children, which allowed them to cunningly evade censure from theocratic authorities. Whether intended by Kiarostami, Where Is the Friend’s House? is considered by many to be the first film of the unofficially labelled Koker Trilogy, and a crucial film of World Cinema.
-Written by Jason Wierzba