Before saying anything about this film or how I felt about it, we need to ask the real questions, such as “What is this film actually called?” I’ve seen “Where Is the Friend’s House?” and “Where Is My Friend’s House?” and “Where Is the Friend’s Home?” It probably doesn’t matter, but man, do I wanna know for sure.
One of the things I mentioned in my “commencement post” for this year’s March of the Movies was a subtle emphasis on watching non-English films. When I wrote this down, this was the film I had in mind—discovered through a friend’s public activity. A single review was enough to encourage me to, at one point, give this film a go, should it ever become available to me. I acquired the means prior to March, and now I’ve seen it. I’m glad I did.
This might be an odd thing to say, but Where Is the Friend’s House? is relaxing. Relaxing? What? Indeed, something about the way this film progresses—how this child runs about the area and collects information in an attempt to meet another person—puts me at ease. The smoky gray overlay of land coated in subtle yellows and browns and greens, shown in large volumes as the boy traverses it—so miniscule in comparison. Many moments shown are rarely above speaking level, with a lot of the more dramatic, tensile moments coated in anxious silence and overbearing guilt.
Despite the relatively heavy subject matter standing in the foreground, this was among the easiest watches of the month, and not just because it’s less than 80 minutes. It has a wonderful pace to it, though admittedly pretty slow throughout. Not action-packed, nor particularly “powerful” in the sense that it’ll ravish the viewer in coarse hardship and dilemmas. It’s a muted portrayal, something that does a lot with a little. Sometimes I find it a little too on-the-nose, but generally is very gripping.
One scene in particular, which is quoted in the review I linked above, is one such moment where I think the film feels a little too obvious. Rather, perhaps it’s my own perception of the world that this film paints, which seems rather extreme. I certainly hope it’s not true to life, because wow… it’s horridly cruel. Adults constantly pinning responsibilities upon children and crushing their spirits at every chance to ensure complete obedience. Verbal abuse, and many allusions to physical abuse, are two of many things that seem especially despicable about the society present. And I find this relaxing!
I pondered, to some degree, about how much more effective this film is due to the focus being on a child rather than an adult. With an adult, one can still actively root for the goodness in them, but perhaps it feels that their maturity already prohibits any sort of moral wavering. The lead in Where Is the Friend’s House? is eight-years-old. He lives in a home where he’s expected to throw down everything to help at a moment’s notice. With so much to burden him and every reason to continue the cycle of apathy, he continues to do what he believes is right. That inner innocence of goodness remains even still. It might be more effective simply for the impressionability of his age.
It’s somewhat similar in tone to Bicycle Thieves, only where that film is a progressively downward spiral, this is more of an… adventure? There is some manner of consequence that the lead will inevitably face if out too late, but it’s more just on his own conscience. It’s a journey of his own volition, inspired by the morals of his character, going against the grain of society. It’s basically a hero’s story. Basically.
And if you look at the cast of actors in this film, you will notice that most of them have been in basically nothing. It seems the director scrambled up a bunch of normal people and made them act in a film. Perhaps that only adds to the realism? Can’t say for sure, but I think most did a good job. It did feel a little clumsy—can’t say whether it was the acting or the writing, as the latter was just a lot of “I am looking for [name].” → “I don’t know them.” Nevertheless, another distinction it shares with the likes of Bicycle Thieves.
And the number of things I have to say on this has plummeted. It’s not as grand as some make it out to be, in my mind, though it’s certainly recommendable. In fact, I’m underselling it; Where Is the Friend’s House? is a quietly loud example of the cruel expectations adults place on children. The manner of development through strict disciplinarian tactics and the cold reality it creates. A loud, triumphant spiel it is not. One would benefit from the context of its humanitarian message prior to watching. Effective, albeit not overwhelmingly so, it’s definitely worth its reputation.
Final Score: 8/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!