“The Runner” captures one of the most important paradoxes of childhood and depicts Amiro’s existence as one of freedom and imprisonment. With no adult to tell him what to do, the boy can roam freely through a breathtaking landscape of sea, plains and cities. But he is smart enough to know that this place offers him no future and that poverty is the ultimate trap. His gaze keeps returning to escape routes – trains, ships and, most intriguingly, airplanes.
through, What Naderi doesn’t show us Amiro’s life nearly as convincingly as he does how he shows it. Rendered in Firooz Malekzadeh’s exquisite color cinematography, Amiro’s surroundings are awash with dazzling light and color, with the crisp edges of a hyper-realistic painting. But Naderi’s most distinctive technique lies in his use of movement (Scorsese springs to mind here), particularly rapid side-track tracking and shots, for example from inside a train speeding away from a group of boys running in confusion afterwards. Obviously the roving Amiro is the title’s runner, but the same word could apply to the film itself, which has a breathless, headlong gait (edited by Bahram Beyzai, one of Iran’s greatest filmmakers).
Lest anyone suspect that Naderi encountered this captivating imagery himself, it should be mentioned that he was known as the most avid cinephile of the great pre-revolutionary directors. In Iran, I heard the story of how he once drove a VW Beetle from Tehran to London to be first in line for the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. As Iranian films began to reach international festivals in the 1980s, critics often recognized the influence of the two most significant earlier movements in post-war cinema, Italian neorealism and French New Wave. The Runner proves the effectiveness of both. Like De Sica’s “Shoeshine,” it was shot on real locations and uses lay children in a story of social outcasts. As in Truffaut’s “The 400 Beats”, the story is derived from the director’s own life. (The influence of Pierrot le Fou and other Godard films can be felt in the film’s visuals.)
During the Iranian New Wave period, Naderi made major films with movie stars, but he also began the autobiographical strand of his work with a film called Harmonica, which also stars a character named Amiro. (His teenage years were dramatized in Experience, which he wrote and directed, Abbas Kiarostami.) After Iranian cinema was effectively destroyed in the 1979 revolution, there was some doubt as to whether it would be restored under the Islamic Republic would rise. In May 1981, Naderi, Kiarostami, Beyzai and other New Wave veterans published an open letter urging the regime to rebuild the film industry. Within two years, her advice was followed and filmmaking resumed in Iran.