Under the Skin of the City Movie Review

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.

Abbas' capitalistic optimism reflects a surprising modernity, and yet it is dispiriting to find female subjugation at the heart of Under the Skin of the City. Abbas' older sister is grappling with an abusive husband who beats her for even the tiniest infraction, and it is refreshing to discover that it is Abbas and his brother who are outraged by this injustice; Tuba, on the other hand, condescendingly remarks after the latest incident, "You were being fresh with him again, weren't you?" Supposedly justified abuse, however, is a regular component of female life in Iran, as is proven when Masoumeh (Mahraveh Sharifi-Nia), the best friend of Tuba's youngest daughter Mahboubeh (Baran Kowsari), flees her family after receiving a brutal beating from her brother as punishment for attending a pop concert. Even Tuba, an admirable bedrock of courage and love who has willingly taken on the male role of sole breadwinner, has, because of a society that strives to keep women in their place, never learned to read.

Bani Etemad, a well-known filmmaker in her native Iran who alternates between making fictional and documentary films, employs a minimalist aesthetic for Under the Skin of the City that infuses the film with an earthy and sobering realism. Sparse images such as an aerial shot of schoolgirls decked out in identical black robes and scarves playing volleyball amplify the director's somber critique of Iran's violent and oppressive sexism. Yet if women are the film's nominal victims, they are also its unlikely heroines: Tuba's determination and dignity are admirable, and, when she finally gets another chance to speak to television reporters about voting in the elections, the power and eloquence of her convictions (although sabotaged by the cameraman's technical difficulties) reverberate with the fieriness of a revolutionary call to arms. When Mahboubeh strikes back at the arrogant brother who set her friend Masoumeh on a ruinous path of poverty and disgrace, it's a strident blow against a society that refuses to play fairly. In her - and, in the film's heartbreaking climax, Tuba's - indignant courage, one can only hope that the future of Iran lies.

Aka Zir-e poost-e shahr.

Comments

Under the Skin of the City Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2003

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

Tori Spelling Hospitalized And Quarantined For Suspected Enterovirus

Tori Spelling has spent the last couple of days in the Cedars-Sinai Medical...

Tori Spelling Hospitalized And Quarantined For Suspected Enterovirus

Bethenny Frankel Set For A 'Real Housewives of New York' Return

Bethenny Frankel is making a return to reality TV! After weeks of speculation...

Bethenny Frankel Set For A 'Real Housewives of New York' Return

Oscar de la Renta, Fashion Designer to the Stars, Dies Aged 82

Oscar de la Renta, the revered fashion designer who most recently dressed...

Oscar de la Renta, Fashion Designer to the Stars, Dies Aged 82

The Walking Dead: Finally, Somebody Bites Into a Charred Leg

Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead featured one of the most gruesome...

The Walking Dead: Finally, Somebody Bites Into a Charred Leg

Jason Momoa's 'Game Of Thrones' Audition Tape Goes Viral [Video]

At this point, almost everyone has wondered what it takes to get in to Emmy...

Jason Momoa's 'Game Of Thrones' Audition Tape Goes Viral [Video]

Fall Out Boy - Centuries Video

'Centuries' is the lead single from Fall Out Boy's upcoming, and as of yet untitled, sixth studio album. The single was...

Fall Out Boy - Centuries (Official Video) Video

Gwen Stefani Drops New Track ‘Baby Don’t Lie’: Listen Here!

As much as we’ve been enjoying seeing Gwen Stefani as a judge on...

Gwen Stefani Drops New Track ‘Baby Don’t Lie’: Listen Here!

Top Five - Trailer

Andre Allen has been voted the Funniest Man in America in his illustrious career as a stand-up comedian. But somehow...

Top Five Trailer

By The Gun - Trailer

Nick Tortano has always felt under pressure to do well in his life, no matter what that takes. He's constantly been the...

By The Gun Trailer
Advertisement