In “Where is the Friend’s Home?” the titular question soon reveals itself to be more rhetorical than interrogative.
The 1987 film’s narrative skeleton is one of childhood friendship and devotion, as 8-year-old Ahmed (Babek Ahmed Poor) embarks on an evening quest to return a school notebook to his classmate, Mohamed Reda Nematzadeh (Ahmed Ahmed Poor). Yet for all the simplicity of this premise, Abbas Kiarostami, in classic fashion, never allows the viewer to settle into a sense of complacent comfort. With a twist of magical realism, “Where is the Friend’s Home?” finds grounding in the mundanity of the everyday — the dust and shrubbery of northern Iran, daily chores and housework — yet wholly tips the familiar balance of this premise with touches of the extraordinary. As in a dream, the viewer accepts these flourishes without question.
Ahmed sets off on his journey with an urgency spurred by the fact that Mohamed Reda will face expulsion if he shows up to school the next day without his requisite materials. This motivation remains the only certainty over the course of his frenzied voyage. As our protagonist runs back and forth from his home village of Koker to the neighboring Poshteh (where Mohamed Reda supposedly lives), all the while waylaid by the demands of adults he encounters along the way, virtually everything comes into question.
The characters themselves shift constantly. We see Ahmed as both a wide-eyed child and a straight-backed young man, swinging his briefcaselike schoolbag; his mother (Iran Outari) is both a callous, demanding parent as well as a concerned, forgiving caretaker. The landscape itself shifts as well; at times the Koker scenery gleams with flora and deep, bright hues, while at others it seems to stretch for miles in a brown monotony. And Kiarostami imbues the film with a symphony of unsettling ambient noises (the splish-splosh of laundry being done, a cat meowing) that often serve no clear purpose.
But, as we come to learn, they don’t have to. Though we never learn precisely where the friend’s house is, this isn’t a piece that requires such a clean resolution. Under Kiarostami’s singular eye, it finds its niche in the marrow of the bones of a simple skeleton and a body of absurdity.