The Runner

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Synopsis

Childhood takes on mythic dimensions in one of the defining works of postrevolutionary Iranian cinema. Inspired by director Amir Naderi’s own boyhood, The Runner is lit from within by Madjid Niroumand’s electrifying performance as a young orphan fending for himself on the streets of a port city, determined to rise above his circumstances—working odd jobs, passing time with friends, learning to read—and running, always running, toward the future. Water, fire, the human body in motion: in hypnotic images of lyrical power, Naderi finds unexpected glory in the world of a boy suspended between modernity and elemental natural forces as he chases his own path forward.

Picture 9/10

The Criterion Collection presents Amir Naderi’s The Runner on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 2K restoration.

Despite Criterion’s encodes being all over the place lately (most of the presentations on their Chantal Akerman set were incredibly dire, for instance), this one has come out incredibly solid, rendering grain cleanly and delivering an outstanding level of detail. Even the highlights in the sky look rather good, still showing detail without any evident noise.

The restoration work has also cleaned things up spectacularly, and I can’t say I noticed any blemish ever pop up. Colors lean warmer, and though there can be a bit of yellow tinge to some things, I didn’t feel it to be aggressive or caused by heavy digital manipulation, and it doesn’t impact blacks or blues. The sky still has a blue tint, not a cyan one. It is a striking presentation overall.

Audio 7/10

The film’s Persian soundtrack is delivered in lossless PCM 1.0. It’s a surprisingly dynamic track, with plenty of action in the background, from its child protagonist screaming toward the heavens to the bustling streets and jetliners taking off. The audio is also very clean, free of distortion and damage, and it sounds very crisp and sharp, with no obvious filtering applied.

Extras 7/10

The film receives a modest little edition that first includes Naderi’s 47-minute 1974 short film, Waiting. Like The Runner, the film focuses on a young boy and a few days of his life. Unlike the protagonist in that film, he still lives with his family and runs errands for them, including going a few doors down the street to get a block of ice each day. This daily occurrence is a highlight for the boy, who has become infatuated with the woman who passes him the ice through the partially ajar door, even though all he has ever seen of her is her tinted hand.

The film is far more dreamlike than the main feature through its minimal sound design, use of light, and a floating feeling as it moves from scene to scene. A short afterword by the director suggests this is all intentional with the film based on his faint memories. It also explains the slight nightmarish shift the film takes as reality seems to come crashing down. It’s an assured and gorgeous-looking film that, as the director notes, does feel like a “spiritual precursor” to The Runner. The film has also been newly restored and receives a decent, if imperfect, encode (it’s better than they usually do for shorts included as supplements).

Criterion also includes a new interview between Naderi and filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, running 21 minutes. It feels like a meet-up between two old friends (according to them, they get together often). The two discuss the making of the film and Naderi’s career, including the movies that influenced him. They also discuss the film’s young star, Madjid Niroumand. However, he pops up in audio from a Q&A session conducted in 2022 featuring the director and star talking about the experience of making the film and their lives afterward. They also take questions from the audience, including one asking why no women appear in the film.

One of the more interesting features is a 2018 film essay by Naderi entitled Where Do You Stand Today, Amir Naderi? Running 13 minutes, the film is a response to a question he was sent asking what he had been up to, and through narration over film footage and photos does just that. Instead of talking about a film he had been working on (Magic Lantern), he talks about finding old negatives of pictures he took of his own “cinema museum” he had assembled in his old office, made up of things he had accumulated over the years. The film's last half is a slideshow of these developed photos, showing off various memorabilia, including videotapes and DVDs. He had mentioned the office was being cleared out, and the last portion of the slideshow features the aftermath. Throughout the features, Naderi talks about his passion for movies and the films that touched him, and this feels like a very personal representation of that love.

The disc closes with the film’s rerelease trailer (which features an interesting choice of music) and an excellent essay on the film and its impact, written by Ehsan Khoshbakht and found in the included insert.

I would have expected more academic material, even if it was simply about Iranian cinema of the time. However, they’ve still put together a nice set of material here, the short film being the standout.

Closing

It falls short with features, but the new high-def presentation looks terrific.

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Directed by: Amir Naderi
Year: 1984
Time: 90 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1211
Licensor: Rialto Pictures
Release Date: March 19 2024
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.37:1 ratio
Persian 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 New conversation between Amir Naderi and filmmaker Ramin Bahrani   Audio interview from 2022 with Amir Naderi and actor Madjid Niroumand, moderated by curator Bruce Goldstein   Waiting, a 1974 film by Naderi, featuring an afterword by the director   Trailer   An essay by filmmaker and critic Ehsan Khoshbakht