Amir Naderi's "The Runner" hovers somewhere between poetry and documentary. Its subject is a orphaned Iranian boy named Amiro (Madjid Niroumand) who lives in an abandoned ship in the port city of Abadan, and on one level it deals with the deprived conditions of his life in classic, neo-realist style.

On these grounds alone, the work is impressive enough. The film, which is one of the first to come to this country out of post-revolutionary Iran and presents life after the shah in a light that is anything but favorable, shows Amiro and the other dispossessed boys who roam the waterfront, wading into the surf with boxes mounted on inner tubes to collect the bottles tossed off the big ships in the harbor. Even in this fringe enterprise, though, the competition is fierce, and the larger boys often shove him aside and steal his bottles.

Undaunted, Amiro tries other ways of earning money, first by selling drinks of cool water, then by shining shoes. His real passion, though, is running. Simply running; not to any set destination or for any stated purpose, but for the primal, blissful release of it. For Naderi, this activity carries a metaphorical meaning -- one that he never fully specifies. Nor is it necessary for him to. Naderi is at his most evocative when he doesn't spell things out completely, when he lets the powerful images of this handsome-faced boy speak for themselves -- for example, when we see him screaming out to the ships in the distance or running mile after mile to keep the block of ice he's bought from being stolen while it melts away in his hands.

The movie is about an almost savage futility, but there's a kind of exaltation here too, which has less to do with Amiro's fervent attempts to educate himself than with the joyous expressiveness of this young actor's face. His unguarded exuberance hits you with unexpected force. It stays with you.

The Runner, at the Biograph, is unrated.