The Runner

Iran 1984, 94 mins
Director: Amir Naderi

A young orphan lives on the shores of the Persian Gulf, a place of dazzling light and oil refineries. When he’s not running chasing trains, the boy has learned to survive in a hostile society by collecting empty bottles at the harbour, shining shoes and selling iced water on the streets.

Amir Naderi’s lyrical autobiographical portrait of childhood is a work of staggering power, reminiscent of De Sica’s Shoeshine and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.

A contemporary review
The Runner tells a story of destitution and determination remarkable by any standards, and doubly remarkable for being the autobiographical account of the maker’s own childhood. Almost of equal interest to the story of Amiro’s rise from garbage picker to shoe-shine boy might have been that from shoe-shine boy to filmmaker. The Runner partakes of the single-mindedness of its protagonist. The race is to the fleet of foot both literally and figuratively, and in a world in which everything has its price – Amiro must pay for the burnt-out light bulb he gets from Uncle Gholam, pay for the inner tube without which he cannot join the gang of bottlescavenging boys, and pay for ice he will sell again as cold water – Amiro learns, of necessity, to outrun both adversaries and friends.

The race, Amir Naderi suggests, is born of desperation but carries its own reward. It is in fact its sense of desperation that prevents The Runner becoming a hymn to individualistic enterprise. Amiro has no alternative. He watches a man drag his dying wife from the garbage dump after presumably a lifetime on the tip, and sees the mutilation that can result from working the shark-infested waters. Indulging not at all in neo-realism’s tendency towards pathos, Naderi allows himself little in the way of poignancy either. We have to be alert to catch the significance of the purchase of the light bulb, Amiro’s latest addition to a string of burnt-out bulbs festooning the derelict cabin in which he lives, an attempt to duplicate the illuminations strung round the harbourside cafe to which he is so magnetically drawn.

Amiro is also part ‘wild child’, part of an under-class denied a means of articulating its plight. His jubilant recital of the alphabet to the pounding waves powerfully catches the sense of someone ‘finding a voice’ for the first time. But it is Amiro’s inability to articulate, or perhaps differentiate, his feelings – certainly few confidences are shared, and for the most part his existence is a solitary one – that proves a major stumbling block for the film. Naderi everywhere registers, rather than elucidates, Amiro’s responses. The passionate cry which ends the film, and with which Amiro has greeted the flight of ‘his’ plane, his victory in the race, or his delight at the harbour lights, remains frustratingly ambiguous. The film’s strength, however, lies in its matter-of-fact and non-voyeuristic picture of world, so that we see the wasteland around the port as he sees it and take it similarly for granted.
Verina Glaessner, Monthly Film Bulletin, August 1988

Director: Amir Naderi
Production Company: Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young People
Executive Producer: Fathola Dalili
Technicians: Ali Asghar Mirzai, Mohammad Mafi, Hassan Karimi, Michael Nedai, Johangir Azad, Ahmed Anwar
Assistant Director: Mohammad Hassanzadeh
Screenplay: Amir Naderi, Behruz Gharibpur
Photography: Firouz Malekzadeh
Camera Operators: Bijan Arfanian, Ali Bageri
Editor: Bahram Beyzaï
Production Designer: Gholam Reza Ramezani
Location Design: Amir Naderi, Mohammad Hassanzadeh
Titles: Abdullah Alimurad, Ali Asgharzadeh, Mohammad Reza Bakhtiari
Sound: Nezam-e-Din Kia’i
Sound Re-recording: Mohammad Haghighi
Sound Sync: Eraj Chahzadi

Majid Niroumand (Amiro)
Musa Torkizadeh (Musa)
A. Gholamzadeh (uncle Gholam)
Reza Ramezani (Ramezan)
Shirzan Bechkal
Ali Pasdarzadeh
Mehrdad Kabiri
Heydar Nazari
Abed Ostowar
Mohammed Nawazi
Farshid Farshizadeh
Abbas Nazeri
Fred Heilander
Abbas Hashemian
Mohammad Ali Amini
Mohsen Shahmohamadi
Behruz Maghsudlu

Iran 1984
94 mins
Digital (restoration)

Restored in 2K from the original negative by Cineric.

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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