Capturing one of the main paradoxes of childhood, “The Runner” portrays Amiro’s existence as one of both freedom and confinement. Because he has no adult to tell him what to do, the boy can exuberantly wander through a magnificent landscape of sea, plains and city. Yet he is smart enough to know that this place offers him no future and that poverty is the ultimate trap. His gaze repeatedly returns to the means of escape – trains, ships and, most bewitchingly, planes.
Through, What Naderi shows us that Amiro’s life is not as convincing as How? ‘Or’ What he shows it. Rendered in Firooz Malekzadeh’s exquisite color cinematography, Amiro’s surroundings are full of dazzling light and color, with the clear edges of a hyper-realistic painting. But Naderi’s most distinctive technique is his use of movement (again Scorsese comes to mind), particularly the rapid sideways tracking shots and shots, say, from inside a train while he walks away from a crowd of boys running pell-mell after it. Obviously, Amiro, an itinerant, is the title runner, but the same word could be applied to the film itself, which has a frantic gait (the editing is by Bahram Beyzai, one of Iran’s greatest filmmakers).
Lest anyone suspect that Naderi stumbled across this captivating visual language on his own, it should be noted that he was known as the most avid moviegoer among leading pre-revolutionary directors. In Iran, I heard the story of how he once drove a VW Bug from Tehran to London to be on the front lines for the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” When Iranian films began to hit international festivals in the 1980s, critics often spotted the influence of the two most important previous movements in postwar cinema, Italian neorealism and the French New Wave. “The Runner” highlights the impact of both. Like De Sica’s “Shoeshine,” it was shot in real-life locations and uses non-professional children in a story of social outcasts. As in Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows”, its story is drawn 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 some great films with movie stars, but he also kicked off the autobiographical side of his work with a film called “Harmonica”, which also features a character called Amiro. (His teenage years were dramatized in “Experience,” which he wrote and directed by Abbas Kiarostami.) After the effective destruction of Iranian cinema in the 1979 revolution, there was doubt about his resurrection under the Islamic Republic. . 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, their advice was heard and cinema resumed in Iran.