The plot and setting of Iranian director Amir Naderi's The Runner (1984) are reminiscent of Bunuel's Los olvidados and early Pasolini: street urchins eking out a bleak existence on the fringe of a decadent, callous society. But Naderi, who now lives in New York, is after an uplifting message. His young protagonist, an illiterate orphan named Amiroo, lives in an abandoned ship and picks up spare change by shining shoes and scavenging. In the oil-refinery seaport where the action takes place, he stoically copes with hardship and rude foreigners, finds enjoyment racing other kids through a flaming oil field, and vents his frustration by shouting at passing airplanes. In Naderi's clever mise en scene the omnipresence of ocean liners, planes, and trains--modes of escape unavailable to him--heighten Amiroo's sense of entrapment and hopelessness. Like Bunuel, Naderi shows a keen understanding of children's camaraderie and determination. When Amiroo chooses to learn the Arabic alphabet--a route Naderi obviously approves of for his autobiographical surrogate--he also wins his first race. By the film's end we realize that Amiroo, in his quest for self-sufficiency and dignity, also stands in for post-Shah Iran. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, October 22, 8:00, and Sunday, October 23, 4:00, 443-3737.