Despite claims that Rakhshan Bani Etemad's Under the Skin of the City tells a universal story of one mother's attempts to maintain family unity in the face of destructive outside pressures, it's difficult not to see the film as distinctly Iranian. Set against the backdrop of the 1998 parliamentary elections that, for many Iranians, held the promise of social and political reform, the film charts the story of Tuba (Golab Adineh), a wife and mother who, when asked by reporters about the upcoming elections during the opening scene, is speechless - partly because her mind is focused solely on caring for her three children and husband, but also, perhaps, because she fears expressing an opinion at all. In Tuba's life, the political sphere takes a backseat to her everyday tasks and dilemmas; as a result of her spouse's physical disability, Tuba provides for her family by working all day in a factory and tending to her tumultuous household at night.
Tuba's eldest son Abbas (Mohammad Reza Forutan) is hard at work trying to obtain a visa - believing that Japan holds more profitable opportunities than Iran - and dreams of returning home wealthy enough to both support his family and impress a lovely office girl who has stolen his heart. To raise money for the visa, he not only borrows from his shady employer, but also sells the family's house, a decision that proves unwise when his carefully thought-out plans begin to unravel. Abbas is part of the burgeoning group of Iranians desperate to escape their home country in search of financial prosperity, and his altruism and loyalty go hand in hand with his entrepreneurial spirit. His dreams are not big - he merely wants to return home rich enough to buy his mother a new house - but his heart is.
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