Monthly Archives: October 2022

  • Where is the Friend’s House?   Abbas Kiarostami

    Where is the Friend’s House?   Abbas Kiarostami ( 1987; Iran) Babak Ahmadpour

    viewed 16 Oct 2022 Star and Shadow Cinema; ticket £7

    Where is the friend’s house?.…an existential question?

    The first shot in Kiarostami’s ‘Where is the Friend’s House?’ is a long duration shot of a section of a nondescript door over which the opening credits are burnt in. The door’s paint is a worn cream sort of colour and you can see screwed onto one side of its frame a little retaining hook. It looks like a cleaning cupboard door; behind it the soundtrack comprises a high pitched racket. When the door finally opens, it reveals the interior of a classroom full of young boys revelling in high spirits. It is the teacher who has just entered, his presence bringing the immediate control of silence.

    This opening shot introduces Kiarostami’s thematic: childhood – as a stage in life – defined by an undifferentiated anonymity with adult presence that is only a door away.

    Kiarostami is filming in a remote rural area of Northern Iran. His film location is a mud built village called Koker where he observes a series of child/adult social relations that are particular to their situation but whose governing dynamics are universal their in their general relevance.

    The universal dimension is the extent to which children are in essence a function of the phenomenological constructs of the adult world. This is to say that relations with children are viewed by the controlling adult world as a series of prescriptive ‘oughts’. Children ‘ought’ to do as they are told, children ‘ought’ to do their homework children ‘ought to’ help’ look after siblings, children ‘ought’ to pay attention; or alternatively children ‘ought to be free to do what they want, children’s opinions ought to have the same weight as adults;. Of course the obverse applies to the adults in their relations with children. Adults have their ‘oughts’ as well as ‘ought not to’s’: adults ‘ought’ to bring their children up to be obedient, adults ‘ought to’ take responsibility for their children’s development, adults ought to listen to children.

    In this sense children have an existential problem: they only exist as extended projections of the adult mind. They don’t exist in their own right; and Kiarostami’s script maps out, in a prescriptive environment the line of a particular child’s development.

    In the world of Koker Kiarostami’s scenario observes the relations between adults and children. In Koker as perhaps in many other cultures, in a sense the children are almost invisible to the adult eye, do not exist except in relation to adult need. The scripting begins with the school teacher’s non negotiable demand that each boy possess a notebook. The notebook has a symbolic importance. It is defined by the teacher as a sign of the pupil’s commitment to the both the state’s and the school’s values; Ahmed’s mother makes a series of demands on Ahmed: that he fetch carry help do his homework; Ahmad’s grandfather demands that Ahmed obey the first time; the old carpenter demands that Ahmad listen. But even as Ahmad child revolves about the nucleus of his actual inexistence to adults, something at the core of his being is at work. An act of witnessing a classroom incident and a moment of carelessness on his part, creates a situation for the inception of an operational consciousness. His spirit shifts enabling him to escape from the gravitational pull of his inexistent orbit around the adult body.

    Ahmad learns to say: “No!” I do what I think I should do because I know that I have to help my friend – whatever.”

    Ahmad decides to go and look for his friend, to find where he lives so that he can give the friend back his notebook which Ahmad has accidently picked up. Failing in this quest, he takes remedial action. In the said notebook Ahmad forges the friend’s homework for him, thereby achieving his moral purpose: to keep his friend out of trouble by defying the prescripts and percepts of the adults. The point is that his behaviour is not reactive, it is a conscious move on his part to do what he does. It is an existential move into being.

    Ahmad reaches a point in his life where he is asked to make a decision on his own that will entail a step away from being a phenomenological captive of others, to become an active being. Although Kiarostami’s observations derive from a society ideologically far removed from Western belief systems, the psychic shift in Ahmad’s consciousness seems no less relevant in those societies that pride themselves in addressing an understanding of child development, where the child is regarded not as inexistent but rather the centre of the socialisation process. These are also societies in which gang culture, drugs and somatic dysfunction may be playing out in their own way re-active functions rather than existential development.

    There is something in the manner in which Kiarostami shot his film that reminded me of Kafka’s ‘The Castle’. The dark compressed look of the village, with its interminable maze of streets alleyways and passages, the circuitous nature of the search and its ultimate failure. The meetings with strangers who at first seem to offer hope but it’s hope that turns out to be illusionary. And ultimately the determination of the seeker, whether it be ‘K’ or Ahmed not to concede to disappointment but to continue with the task however difficult.

    Kairostami’s titular question: ‘Where is the Friend’s House’, points not so much to a literal quest or question, but to an interrogation about a state of being.

    adrin neatrour



  • My Twentieth Century     Ildiko Enyedi (Hu;1988)

    My Twentieth Century     Ildiko Enyedi (Hu;1988) Dorota Segda, Oleg Yankovskiy

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 2nd Oct 2022; ticket £7

    Film as Kaleidoscopic Quilt

    Opening shot in Ildiko Enyedi’s ‘My Twentieth Century’ is an looped clip displayed within the classic silent movie framing element, the ‘iris’ matte. It shows a man with his head placed inside a huge cannon (like those used by human cannonballs in daredevil circus stunts). In his hand the man brandishes a flaming torch which he directs in the direction of the barrel’s touch hole. As a short clip we see it again and again as the opening credits roll, perhaps a visual metaphor for humankind’s repeated attempts in the twentieth century to self annihilate.  

    Enyedi locates us at the turn of the last century, her twentieth century, where Edison and Tesla demonstrate the awesome possibilities of light and electro-magnetism; where telegrams communicate in minutes across the oceans of the world; where the night stars talk like angels in fanciful Hollywood movies; Pavlov’s dogs escape and a chimpanzee zoo specimen tells the tale of his capture. These sequences are spliced into the travels and travails of twin sisters Lily and Dora, born at the end of the nineteenth century and destined to experience life in the twentieth century. The experiences of the twins, separated as young girls, are rendered as pastiche ‘film noir’ as in their separate journeyings they travel across the socio-political landscape of Europe: Lily committed to a vague unspecified revolutionary anarchism, Dora a sybaritic feminist, very much her own woman.

    Enyedi’s film is structured like a patchwork quilt. Her specific collection of impressions ideas and action stitched together as a psychic coverlet of images. She has assembled her twentieth century with artful caprice and gracious style. The film is shot to replicate some of the features of early movies: academy frame, filmed with high contrast black and white stock, with many of the transitions replicating the old ‘in camera’ iris dissolve. The characters are elegantly played out by her troupe of actors. Unlike some of their contemporaries, the caste all appear comfortable and relaxed in period costume working together as an ensemble to lend the film its substance, and the solidity cohesion and unity needed to deliver Enyedi’s diffuse scenario.

    If there is a remarkable scene in Enyedi’s film, it is surely the ‘feminist lecture’, unexpectedly and subversively interpolated into the the flow of the film. It’s a scene that simultaneously flout’s both audiences’ (the actual and the virtual) expectations and pushes to the top of the agenda one particular aspect in the actual struggle of feminism – the inherent belief of men in their superiority. Dora is present as the male lecturer first introduces himself and his topic: female political emancipation. Quickly asserting his support for women’s emancipation, their right to vote – which elicits warm response from the all female audience – he quickly moves on first to emphasise that having this ‘right’ by no means equates with women being the moral and intellectual equals of men. The lecturer continues stating categorically that women are either whores or mothers. Nothing in between and ….turning to the blackboard behind him he draws in chalk the crude graffito image of an erect cock and balls and pointing directly to his depiction, continues …women’s problem is that they worship the phallus: as ugly and crude as the phallus may be that is the object of their desire.

    Using episodic clips Enyedi cuts between the ‘journeys’ of Lily and Dora, to play out this aspect of her feminist proposition: that it is not so much particular rights or issues that constitute the problem for feminists, but the ingrained arrogance of male sensibility. Lily, is drawn into politics. But the politics in which she is involved is very much men’s ‘games’ on men’s ‘terms’. Mediated thorough male political organisation, Lily is treated by her political mentor as an object, a body to be used and dominated. As she travels across Europe, Dora is not seduced into or by the world of men. In possession of a complete sense of self, she dictates her life on her own terms. She initiates relationships with men and determines their outcome: she is the one who is in control confident of both her sexual power and superiority. She stays the course of the ‘emancipation’ lecture presumably because she is not threatened or belittled by it, but rather amused by the deluded bravura rantings of the little man.

    Mediating the images and the sequences linking the lives the twins, is the formal device of the iris. Used both as a matte and as a transition, it was a favourite device of early silent films as it was usually composed in camera at the start or end of a shot. Use of a matte as a framing device suggests the idea that the viewer is a special privileged party to the unfolding events, they are in on the secret so to speak. As a transition the expanding or retracting iris emphasises an unhurried movement in the scenario, saying to the audience: meanwhile lets have a look at what is going on over here. In an era of film making characterised either by shots of brief duration or by scenarios dominated by long tracking or crane shots, the iris transition is rarely employed, but chosen by Enyedi to effect her transitions it evokes another sensibility a consciously deliberately stated means of moving through the scenes of her scenario.

    ‘My Twentieth Century’ Enyedi’s first feature film, has a structure that is analogous to the patchwork quilt, which is a particularly female form of expression: at once practical tactile and beautiful. Her film expresses a statement of artistic and political intent that the female perspective can be represented by forms that lie outside and represent experience in a way that is different from the structure and content of mainstream film that has in the main mostly been developed my male vision. It is another way of seeing of representing life – a non masculine statement of intent.

    adrin neatrour