The premise of Where Is the Friend’s Home (1987) by Abbas Kiarostami is simple. An eight-year-old boy, Ahmed, knows that his friend will lose his place in school if he does not complete an assignment. But Ahmed’s friend won’t be able to complete it because Ahmed has accidentally taken his book. And so he sets off to the neighbouring village to find the friend’s home. In a way this is a quest story and Ahmed is a knight errant. But it is also a story about making things right.
I think children have an innate sense of justice; I believe friendship is a valuable and rare thing. I also believe it is one of the relationships on which, as a nation, we place no value. (Imagine telling your boss you need a few days off because your best friend has died.) I cried through the film as Ahmed runs through the dusty Iranian countryside, along those Z-shaped roads, under the cherry trees, seeking to make things right. Unlike Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven (1997) where I felt manipulated, here we have nothing but all the times we did not go looking for the home of the friend.
I have spent 25 years teaching journalism at Sophia Polytechnic’s Social Communications Media department. Perhaps this is why Zhang Yimou’s Not One Less (1999) made me think so hard about what teaching really means. Wei Minzhi is 13, she can barely read or write but she must take over a village school. The departing teacher tells her he will not pay her if she has lost even a single pupil in his absence.
And though Wei has an economic motive for her quest, the film is still heart-breaking and it never tries to turn teaching into anything heroic. (It is heroic, but the heroism is in the repetition, in the constancy and in all the things that film cannot glamourise.)
A man who wears many hats, Jerry Pinto is an award-winning author, poet, journalist and lecturer.
Read part 4 here