The Koker Trilogy
Where is the Friend's House?
Abbas Kiarostami first came to international attention for this wondrous, slyly self-referential series of films set in the rural northern-Iranian town of Koker. Poised delicately between fiction and documentary, comedy and tragedy, the lyrical fables in The Koker Trilogy exemplify both the gentle humanism and the playful sleight of hand that define the director’s sensibility. With each successive film, Kiarostami takes us deeper into the behind-the-scenes “reality” of the film that preceded it, heightening our understanding of the complex network of human relationships that sustain both a movie set and a village. The result is a gradual outward zoom that reveals the cosmic majesty and mystery of ordinary life.
The first part of Abbas Kiarostami’s unofficial (to the director) Koker Trilogy, Where is the Friend’s House?, is presented on the first dual-layer disc of Criterion’s three-disc box set. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The 2K restoration has been sourced from the 35mm original camera negative.
Unsurprisingly this ends up being the roughest looking presentation of the three films, though I was prepared for far worse. There are scratches and what look like bits of dirt scattered throughout, with it getting a bit heavy in places (the opening for example), and I assume what remains was too problematic to even attempt to thoroughly clean without causing other problems. Mold and stains end up being one of the bigger issues, and remnants pop up a few times and will hang around for a while. Still, if this is the worst there is then I feel we’re doing pretty good.
As to the digital presentation it looks quite good itself and the picture does look like a projected film in the end. The film has a warmer look and the colours can be a little drab but I felt this was all intentional. Evening scenes present strong blacks and I felt shadow delineation was solid. Despite any source issues the picture is incredibly sharp most of the time, clearly rendering the finer textures and long shots of the landscape delivering every little nuance clearly. I was really taken by the details and patterns in found in the protagonist’s sweater.
In all the final picture ends up being a wonderful little surprise. I was sure the condition of the materials would have been limiting and while time and (possibly) poor storage have taken their toll on the film it still comes off looking wonderful.
The monaural Farsi soundtrack is delivered in lossless 1.0 PCM. Dialogue is clear and what music there is sounds good, but it’s a limited presentation, rather flat in the end. It is clean, at least, free of background noise and damage.
Part of a bigger box set, Criterion scatters a number of features over the three discs. Where is the Friend’s House only receives two significant ones, both being more specific to the film on this disc. One of the more significant supplements in the set is the first one found here, Kiarostami’s short documentary (best descriptor for it anyways) Homework, running 77-minutes and made in 1989. During the opening moments a group of children see the filmmaker filming and come on over to ask what kind of movie he’s making. Offscreen Kiarostami explains his ideas though he isn’t entirely sure what it will be. He explains at the very least how he was having trouble doing homework with his son and was curious if it has anything to do with the school or education system in Iran (or at least in Tehran). After this opening (and a quick glimpse of what the opening of a school day in Iran looked like, at least circa 1989) Kiarostami sets up a camera and begins interviewing students and then adults, getting an idea about how they deal with homework and maybe also gathering frustrations some may have with education in the country. The children interviews take up most of the film, and I loved how matter-of-fact they all were, explaining how they get help with homework or the punishments they might receive if they fail to get it done. Stylistically it’s still very Kiarostami, even to the point where this “documentary” about education is also about making the movie (Kiarostami likes to cut to a cameraman often) but it’s quite funny at times and is a wonderful observation and time capsule. I was quite taken by it.
Rather surprisingly the film has also received a 2K restoration and it looks wonderful here. It’s grainy as hell but it’s rendered well, and the elements look to have been cleaned up extensively. It looks great!
Following this is a 2015 Q&A with Abbas Kiarostami and hosted by Peter Scarlet, filmed after a screening of the film in Toronto. The first half offers a general discussion about Where is the Friend’s House? (which Kiarostami states is his most popular film based on how often he is asked about it) and a minimal amount about his work since, followed by a discussion on how he feels one should view film in order to have the proper connection with it. There is then a short question and answer session with members of the audience, covering topics like why doors are so prominent in his films (Kiarostami says he didn’t even notice) and his use of subplots that don’t have much, if anything, to do with the main story. A translator is needed between Kiarostami and the audience, so the translations back and forth end up eating a lot of time, but it’s a great conversation with the director.
I’m disappointed by the lack of more academic material for this film (the other discs look to fill this gap admittedly) but both supplements are excellent, with the inclusion of the bonus film being one of the set’s highlights.
Source issues remain yet the new restoration still manages to look striking thanks to an incredible digital encode, and the inclusion of Kiarostami’s film Homework is one of the set’s strongest additions. A great way to start off this set.