Monday, March 12, 2007

32. Iranian director Amir Naderi's "Davandeh" (The Runner) (1985): A gem of neo-realist cinema

Davandeh (The runner) is a cinematic ode to the spirit of Amiro, a young orphan boy who seeks to excel in what ever he does, to know more and look beyond his present boundaries, and to seek this knowledge through formal education that has eluded him thus far in life. Without a doubt, the movie is a treat to watch. This is the second Amir Naderi film discussed on this blog.

The opening shot is of the young boy yelling out a greeting at a distant sea vessel. You wonder what is wrong with the kid. As the film progresses you learn that he is an orphan. He is a normal kid, yearning to know more about the world beyond his immediate boundaries—the big ship and aircrafts symbolize this quest.

But then Amiro is not a normal kid. He also wishes to excel within his known boundaries. He tries to collect more floating bottles in the sea than other orphan boys of his age so that he can earn more and buy magazines with colorful pictures of aircrafts. He is a loner (he lives alone in an old grounded ship) but likes to prove his ability to run with his peers, and beat them in marathon races chasing moving trains. The film is called "The runner" as Amiro's running ability is underlined three times in the film—first he runs behind the train and wins a psychological race over his peers, then he runs after a cyclist who tries to avoid paying him for the cool water and catches up with him, and finally running with a block of ice that he has bought while others try to rob him of it, against a backdrop of oil fires. But then aren't we all "runners" of some sort in real life?

Naderi's Amiro becomes larger than life in his next quest. He is persistent in his efforts to learn the alphabet by literally knocking on the doors of the nearest school. By the end of the film Amiro is reciting the alphabets he has learned in school while looking at the symbols of his quest to reach the unknown distant world, beyond his physical vision. It is a literal and figurative quest.

Having seen Amir Naderi's film Aab, Baad, Khaak (Water, wind, dust) also with Majid Niroumand (Amiro of Davandeh) only a day before, Davandeh's power as great cinema was a trifle diluted.

Amiro leads the pack

What did Naderi's Aab, Baad, Khaak present that Naderi's Davandeh could not?

1. Davandeh totally excludes women, which Aaab, Baad, Khaak does not. Even in the latter they are marginal. 2. Davandeh revolves around an individual, while Aaab, Baad, Khaak is critical of society as seen through the eyes of a boy. 3. Davandeh captures temperatures (ice block vs. burning oil wells) but Aaab, Baad, Khaak is able to capture all the elements of nature (water, wind, dust) that affect the average Iranian living on the fringes of society. 4. Amiro of Davandeh was somewhat larger than life in his quest for knowledge unlike his realistic role in Aaab, Baad, Khaak. 5. Davandeh leans towards veiled political criticism, while Aaab, Baad, Khaak is a pure social and psychological essay without obvious political undertones

Why is Naderi avoiding female characters? Why is Davandeh underlining that foreign lands offer more than one's own (apart from financial disparities)? It is not surprising that Naderi having made these films in Iran, won accolades at international film festivals and now lives in the US far from his native land that provided fodder for his creativity.

P.S. Amir Naderi's next feature, a more abstract and universal film, Water, Wind, Dust (1989) is reviewed earlier on this blog.

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