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Runner

By Gonzalo Lira Galván

Death is often thought to be the exact moment when the heart stops beating. However, Haas's (Hannah Schiller) father is a case of anomalous death, in which blood still runs throbbing through the veins inside a body abandoned to a life of resignation.


Debt, loneliness and the inhospitable landscape of American plains. A setting that feels both contemporary and timeless. This is the canvas on which up-and-coming director Marian Mathias depicts the simple story of a young woman forced to face the adult world, unknown to her until now. Her only reference to date is her father,

a Nobody whose legacy consists of a pile of debt, passed on to her the second his heart stopped beating.


With the death of her father in tow and the weight of public scrutiny judging his absence at the fateful moment that would change her life, Haas must transport the body to Illinois, where even the weather seems to be sending a clear message of rejection as it oscillates with no transition from extreme dryness at the cemetery one day, to downpours the next.


Haas's life, one more consequence of the universe’s cruelty, takes on new meaning when she meets Will, a young nomad with seafaring dreams. He is a taciturn man, but under Mathias' direction it is the more subtle elements that indicate change in the characters. Suddenly, lonely journeys on foot are swapped for bike rides in good company. The open shots of hostile landscapes start to close in little by little and focus more and more on details until the whole scene becomes an intimate one, as if the harshness of the environment suddenly becomes irrelevant.


Runner is surprising for many reasons: starting with director Marian Mathias’s maturity and rigor, but also due to the actors’ performances, particularly that of Hannah Schiller who plays the part of Haas. Both the actress and the character sail smoothly through the difficult mission they have been entrusted with, each with very distant and very different—but nonetheless complex—motivations.


Another key element of the film is Jomo Fray’s—a frequent collaborator of Mathias—work behind the camera, which helps us understand the environment inhabited by the characters. Each shot is reminiscent of the paintings of Norman Rockwell, Gustave Caillebotte or Jean-François Millet, but mainly of Edward Hopper since the house where Haas's father dies could well be the "The house by the railroad" (Hopper, 1925).


These similes are not a coincidence. The country that Mathias portrays is one full of despair, articulated by an economic fantasy that contrasts with the realism of rural life, in which its inhabitants, dead in life, long for a better future that may never come or that—as is the case of Runner and Haas' father—, can only get better with the last beat of a broken heart.


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