Jacob Gehman’s review published on Letterboxd:
Where Is the Friend's House is stressful. It's been a long time since I've been so stressed out by a film. I enjoyed it, mostly, but it just keeps building stressful situation after stressful situation as the minutes slip by. There were places I could barely breathe.
Ahmad is eight years old, living in Koker, a small Iranian town. The film opens with his school seatmate, Mohamed Reda, getting yelled at by their teacher for not having his homework notebook. It's a third strike for poor Mohamed Reda, and one more violation will result in expulsion. So when Ahmad returns home and finds Mohamed Reda's notebook in his bag, he decides to try and return it to him.
What ensues is what Criterion calls a "miraculous, child's-eye adventure," but what I will rephrase as, "finding people is hard and no one listens to children."
Mohamed Reda lives one town over. We're not given a great idea of how far it is, but apparently close enough for Ahmad to think walking it is fine, but also just far enough his mother can't believe someone from there would go to his school. Still, he sneaks out of home and goes to knock about this town where his strategy for finding Mohamed Reda is to ask random people if they know where he lives.
It's so stressful.
Especially because most of the conversations cycle around two, three, four times with the same series of questions. Some of this might be a cultural norm, at least in communicating with children. Sort of a "children are undisciplined and lazy and need to obey adults" thing and a "if a child has time to ask you a question, they have time to do something you tell them to" thing, at least with adults who feel like they have specific authority (parents, grandparents, teachers, and, to a lesser extent, the people of their own town). It would be one thing if it felt like adults were making an attempt to understand a child's problem (particularly parents), and give them ideas for solving it, but Ahmad's mother says "do you homework, then you can play" each time Ahmad tries to explain the problem.
It's frustrating, yes, but it's also fascinating. The real joy of Where Is the Friend's House is seeing this culture--one so different from what I know--portrayed in a way that feels so honest and normal. And, in such a way, Where Is the Friend's House is beautiful.