The Runner, 1985

A young, impoverished boy named Amiro (Majid Niroumand) observantly stands on the shoreline, his eyes transfixed on a large white ship in the distance, visibly mesmerized. Almost mechanically, he waves his arms repeatedly and calls to the silent, slow moving object. The brief episode is a fleeting, tangential distraction from his daily ritual of survival. He returns to his immediate task: foraging through the city garbage dump in search of re-sellable scrap and recyclable materials, where he joins other equally desperate “salvagers” in their often fruitless quest. The reality of their desperate circumstances invariably manifests itself when two people fight each other for a discarded, insulated cooler, and the weaker man is left empty-handed. It is a harsh and unjust reality that will continue to resound within Amiro’s tenacious spirit. His best friend convinces him to abandon the garbage dump and join his friends in collecting bottles that have washed ashore from the passing cruise ships. Carrying a wooden crate fastened onto an inner tube for flotation, Amiro struggles to collect as many bottles into his crate as the other, more experienced boys, only to be bullied into handing over some of his bottles to the other children when an older boy accuses Amiro of taking bottles that the other had spotted, but could not reach, before him. This pervasive sense of uncompromising and fierce competition extends into their recreational pastime, as the boys attempt to outrun each other in touching the rear cabin of an accelerating train that has left the station. One day, Amiro comes upon a small airport and is fascinated by the sight of airplanes taking off and landing in the air field, and prompts him to buy foreign aviation magazines to decorate his room. When a merchant attempts to sell him cheaper, domestic magazines, Amiro reveals that he is illiterate and only buys the foreign magazines for their vivid, color pictures. It is an admission that resurrects a deep-seeded insecurity within him. But inevitably, self-loathing gives way to action, as Amiro realizes that in order to escape his dire and hopeless situation, he must receive an education.

Told in simple, narrative structure and shot in neorealistic style, Amir Naderi creates a compassionate and life-affirming portrait of poverty and human resilience in The Runner. Juxtaposing the recurring imagery of modern transportation with Amiro’s pervasive running, Naderi presents a dichotomy between Amiro’s existing social situation and his unrealized potential: chasing a bicyclist for an unpaid glass of water; fleeing from a thief after recovering his block of ice; racing against the other boys in their speed and endurance contests. In essence, as Amiro physically conditions himself to survive in the harsh conditions of the real world, he learns that only through the mental conditioning of knowledge can he truly overcome his desperate environment. The final, symbolic image shows a close-up of Amiro triumphantly reciting the alphabet at an airfield – a poignant reminder that his once elusive dreams now seem to be within his reach.

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