Thursday, April 8, 2010

1987: Where Is the Friend's House? (Abbas Kiarostami)

1987: Where Is the Friend's House? (Abbas Kiarostami)
I'll never forget the first time I saw one of Abbas Kiarostami's films.  I was living in Caen, France, and Through the Olive Trees was playing at the "local" arthouse.  I use the term loosely as I didn't have a car that year, and sometimes the buses would go on strike, taking away my option of public transportation, too.  But I was determined to see the film and decided to walk.  It was least an hour each way, and I can remember questioning my decision a number of times while in transit. After seeing the final shot of the film though, I left the theater and began my walk back home in absolute movie nirvana.

Kiarostami is up there in a small group of my favorite filmmakers.  More than anything, what I love about his work is the way he combines cinematic rigor with deep humanity.  His filmmaking is simple, disciplined, restrained, and to throw in a culinary descriptive, clean. Meanwhile, the emotional core of his work is deep, honest, probing, and insightful.   

Where Is the Friend's House? takes something so simple, a little boy unable to find his friend's house, and turns it into one of the most dramatic experiences imaginable.  Like all Kiarostami, this one is quiet, fairly slow, visually beautiful, and almost earthy in its naturalism.  

I love all of Kiarostami's films from this period and look forward to catching up on some of his earlier and some of his later work.  But in these eyes, already by what I've seen, he's one of the greatest of all filmmakers.

Other contenders for 1987: I still have some films to see from this year.  These include:  Maurice Pialat's Under the Son of Satan, Souleymane Cisse's Yeelen, Elaine May's Ishtar, Eric Rohmer's Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, Alex Cox's Walker, Woody Allen's Radio Days, Stephen Frears' Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Nanni Moretti's The Mass is Ended, John Sayles' Matewan, Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, John Boorman's Hope and Glory, Hal Hartley's The Cartographer's Girlfriend, Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, James Ivory's Maurice, Mohsen Makhmalbaf's The Cyclist, Christine Edzard's Little Dorrit, Jean-Pierre Mocky's Agent trouble, and 
Ousmane Sembene's Camp de Thiaroye.  I need to revisit Louis Malle's Au revoir les enfants as it's been too long since I've seen it to know where it'd place on this list.  From this year, I really like Brian De Palma's The Untouchables and The Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona.  I love Stephen Frears' Prick Up Your Ears.  And my closest runner-up is John Huston's The Dead.

5/8/10 I watched John Boorman's Hope and Glory.  Although I found it a little broad, sentimental, and glossy at times for my taste, it did have a great deal of heart.  It was obvious that this material was very personal to Boorman.  And his intimate relationship to the film certainly gives it a certain freshness and originality.   

5/9/10 I watched Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun.  I was struck by how closely Bale resembled the young Jean-Pierre Leaud in 400 Blows, and Bale's performance certainly must rank up there with the finest ever registered by a young actor.  A little overlong and a little overblown at times for me, but full of incredible moments.  Also of note is the vitality Spielberg is able to give it throughout.  

5/29/10 I watched Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants.  The first hour buzzes along like a complete masterpiece.  Then there is maybe a scene or two that feels a little unnecessary.  But all in all, an extremely powerful, restrained look at occupied France.  Full of heart and lively storytelling.

9/2/10 I watched Woody Allen's Radio Days.  It's a very buoyant Woody with a great sense of nostalgia, and an interesting, heavy reliance on the zoom.  Full of Woody's typical humor - this is a personal film by Woody with grace and some very excellent moments.  

9/2/11 I watched Souleymane Cisse's Yeelen.  This earthy and evocative work is the first film I have seen by Cisse.  It's so rooted in African custom as to feel a little elusive.  But I appreciate that there is a talent at work here.  

9/6/11 I watched Mohsen Makhmalbaf's The Cyclist.  A sort of political parable that left me a bit at a distance.  A bit too disjointed and stylistically noisy for me to fully embrace.  

10/13/11 I watched Eric Rohmer's Boyfriends and Girlfriends.  A mediocre Rohmer.  His sublime style is almost entirely intact, but the actors let him down a little this go around.  

12/10/15 I watched Allison Anders, Kurt Voss and Dean Lent's Border Radio.  For the first thirty minutes, I was so excited, I felt like I was watching a more punk rock version of Stranger than paradise.  But then the film just kinda meanders into Godardian derivations and indy looseness and laziness.  

5/14/17 I watched Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I.  It is a cult film that has buzzed around me for years but for some reason I am just now seeing it.  It features deep, committed performances and an explosive feel and timing for language.  Robinson may not have a highly identifiable style but this film feels like it must have been a key film for the musical New Wave practitioners and for Boyle's zeitgeist catching Trainspotting a decade later.  

9/22/17 I watched John Hughes' Planes, Trains & Automobiles.  Although much more highly revered than the Hughes-written Pretty in Pink, I am partial to Pink.  This film has its funny moments and seems to be an influence on Apatow's later blend of warmth, humor and cruelty.  But it also feels repetitious and tedious at a number of junctures.

10/15/17 I watched Werner Herzog's Cobra Verde.  Not an easy film.  In its disjointedness, it felt reminiscent of something Welles might have made in the 50s or 60s.  And as a rougher and rawer Aguirre, it had me thinking about Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, a pure creation from a master filmmaker who seemed to no longer care if his audience was following.  Yet, the passion of Herzog pushes way past any financial limitations.  His pet theme of human greed comes through as well as in anything of his I have seen and the brilliant images by the sea in the final minutes serve as the perfect illustration for the preoccupations that led him to make this very amorphous work.   

7/19/18 I watched Oliver Stone's Wall Street.  The first act is fun and zippy in the way that Stone knows how to tell a story best.  The rest of the film however is soaked in easy morality and never feels rooted in anything real or inspired.

12/8/18 I watched Elaine May's Ishtar.  Not as bad as I had heard but not as great as Rosenbaum or Brody led me to believe either.  I loved the first act, before they went overseas but the rest just feels messy to the point of losing interest.

1/13/19 I watched Pedro Almodovar's Law of Desire.  Stylistically, particularly from a production design standpoint, it impresses.  And the acting, Banderas especially, stands out.  But I never found myself caring all that much.

10/6/20 I watched Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.  The cinematography is majestic but I struggled to feel any other aspect of it.

1/4/22 I watched James L Brooks' Broadcast News.  Brooks is an interesting filmmaker.  He is capable of putting together extraordinary scenes.  His work with actresses is nearly unmatched as is his ability to cast and create chemistry.  This film, as great as it is at certain times, feels uneven, and has an ending that is so shrugged off that it feels offensive given all that has come before it.    


  1. My own favorite Kiarostami films are TASTE OF CHERRY and THE WIND WILL CARRY US, which are masterpieces, but who can argue with your choice here, a film that is also among the best films of the year for me. Your aecdote there with the hour walk to and fro in France, and the afterglow is really what make movie experiences so special, and Kiarostami is one of the artists who could give someone this kind of epiphany.

    I guess it depends on what day of the week you ask me as far as 1987 goes. It's perhaps the finest year of the decade. Only 1989 competes in my view. As it's too tough to choose between EMPIRE OF THE SUN and HOPE AND GLORY I will declare a tie.

    My #1 Film of 1987:

    Empire of the Sun (Spielberg)
    Hope and Glory (Boorman)


    The Dead (Huston; UK/Ireland)
    Little Dorrit (Ezuard; UK)
    Camp de Thiaroye (Sembene; Kenya)
    Yeelen (Souleylmane Cisse; Mali)
    Au Revoir Les Enfants (Malle; France)
    Dust in the Wind (Hsiao-Hsien; Taiwan)
    The Cyclist (Makhmalbaf; Iran)
    The Last Emperor (Bertolucci; Italy)
    Babette's Feast (Axel; Denmark)
    Housekeeping (Forsythe; UK)
    The Pathfinder (Gaup; Norway)
    Where's My Friend's House? (Kiarostami; Iran)
    Rouge (Kwan; Hong Kong)
    Damnation (Tarr; Hungary)
    Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick; USA/UK)
    Pelle the Conqueror (August; Denmark)
    House of Games (Mamet; USA)
    Matewan (Sayles; USA)
    Belly of an Architect (Greenaway; UK)
    Sammie and Rosie Get Laid (Frears; UK)

  2. Sam, I absolutely love TASTE OF CHERRY and THE WIND WILL CARRY US, too! And they will both find very prominent placements on my lists in those years. I also really love AND LIFE GOES ON and THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES. This one though might be the most accessible of all. If I were starting someone out on a Kiarostami kick, this is probably where I'd first lead them.

    I still have many from you list to see, but I'm looking forward to them.

    Thanks, Sam. Always great having you here!

  3. Jeffrey, again I am unfamiliar with your choice though its visual beauty you mention appeals to me. I am going with "Empire of the Sun" which I still believe to be Spielberg's best work..

    Radio Days
    Hope and Glory
    The Last Emperor
    Raising Arizona
    Full Metal Jacket
    The Untouchables
    Wall Street
    House of Games
    Au Revoir les Enfants

  4. John, I definitely need to see this Spielberg. It's one I've missed for some reason all these years. I like FULL METAL JACKET and HOUSE OF GAMES, just a little less than the ones I mention. WALL STREET is one I need to revisit. It's been forever since I've seen it, and THE LAST EMPEROR is one I struggled with the one time I saw it. But I owe it another viewing at some point, too.

    Thanks, John. Always great to hear from you!

  5. Man, I'm ashamed to say that I've still not seen a Kiarostami film. I was going to hold out and pick up the Criterion release of Close-Up as my initiation, but this movie you've described sounds simply sublime and much like something I would love, I may have to go ahead and seek it out. This was a wonderful writeup Jeffrey.

    Browsing all the lists here, it's apparent there is still a ton of good stuff for me to see from this year. From what I have seen, I adore Huston's The Dead, a beautiful masterpiece, and Mamet's House of Games is probably my favorite con movie. I also love Clayton's The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Frears' Prick Up Your Ears, and Reiner's The Princess Bride

  6. I have three strong contenders for this year - Malle's AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS; Woody Allen's RADIO DAYS; and John Boorman's HOPE AND GLORY. In my own countdown, I went with the Malle and if forced to make the decision again I suppose that I would go with it again. It's a stunningly sad story, but so well told. Such a great movie.

    Allen's Radio Days remains a personal favorite and is often overlooked by his other great movies. Definitely check this one out, Jeffrey!

  7. Drew, thanks so much for the incredibly kind words! I think this Kiarostami is a great place to start with his work.

    From your list, I still need to see THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE. And I need to revisit THE PRINCESS BRIDE. It's been too long since I've seen it to know where it'd place here.

    And thanks so much for mentioning the Frears film. I love it, and it should have been part of my original post. I have added it now.

    Thanks, Drew. Always wonderful to have you here!

  8. Dave, I definitely need to see RADIO DAYS! It sounds fantastic.

    And I also need to see the Malle again. It's been a really long time since I first saw it.

    Thanks, Dave! Always awesome having you here.

  9. Jeffrey, I have a few Kiarostami credentials, and I really liked The Wind Will Carry Us and Ten. But there are a lot of gaps to fill, and until I fill this particular one I have to stick with a variety of war films: Full Metal Jacket, Hope and Glory, Empire of the Sun and Au Revoir Les Enfants.

  10. Samuel, I really want to see TEN! It's very much on the radar.

    Thanks for the great comments. Always a treat to have you here!

  11. Where is the Friend's Home is my favorite film of all time, so it's naturally my favorite of 1987. Also my year of birth, coincidentally!

  12. Nick, wow that's awesome that this is your favorite film of all time! It's really, really amazing, I agree.

    Great to hear from you! Thanks, Nick.