Set in 1998, “City” opens on Tuba (Golab Adineh), a worker at a garment factory, being interviewed by a television crew about the concerns of the Iranian woman in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Wanting to speak her mind but unable to articulate her thoughts properly and continually interrupted by other women in the room, the interview is cut short, and Tuba returns to her station on the deafening factory floor. Not that returning home is much better for Tuba. She shares a hovel in the poor part of the capital city with her unemployed and somewhat handicapped husband Mahmoud (Mohsen Ghazi Moradi) and their children: the adult Abbas (Mohammad Reza Foroutan), who is saving for a work visa to Japan in hopes of making a better life for himself, and thus his family; the twentysomething Hamideh (Homeira Riazi), who has returned home after yet another incident of abuse at the hands of her husband, with her young daughter in tow and another child on the way; sixteen year old political activist Ali (Ebraheem Sheibani), who spends more time getting involved in fisticuffs with people on the street while handing out political leaflets than attending school; and fourteen year old Mahboubeh (Baran Kowsari) who just wants to have fun with her friend and next door neighbor Masoumeh.
Although Abbas means well, his naivete continually gets him deeper and deeper into debt and desperation. So impulsive is he to not only reverse his family’s fortunes but also impress a pretty employee at one of his shady boss’s shady associates, Abbas will even sell his family’s home in order to further his own agenda. When his carefully choreographed plans quickly unravel, Abbas continues to make poor decisions, all which lead him further into hopelessness. To save her house and her family, Tuba is forced to make some drastic choices.
Strangely, with all this misery, the film never feels oppressive. It is to Ms. Bani-Etemad’s credit as a filmmaker that, even as all these painful things happen to this otherwise innocent family, one still feels that things will turn out for the better for Tuba and her family. Maybe not today, but somewhere down the line.
What surprised me is how we are presented with a representation of life in this country we continue to be in conflict with, having recently been designated by President Bush as an “axis of evil,” that is so incredibly similar to our own. What little I’ve known about Iran comes from growing up during the time of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the embassy hostage crisis. Of Walter Cronkite ending his broadcast every night with announcing the number of days the hostages had been held captive, and the failure of Operation Eagle Claw. Of Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie over “The Satanic Verses.” Of Iran’s disappearance from our national consciousness, with the focus switching to Saddam Hussein and Iraq, their neighbor to the West. I know I am no expert in Middle East life, and I am aware I shouldn’t be so surprised to discover the daily lives of people in other cultures is so analogous to our own, but I was still struck by how familiar it all seemed.
I give “Under The Skin Of The City” an A for effort and an A for execution.
“Under The Skin Of The City” Scorecard
Director: Rakhshan Bani-Etemad
Producers: Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Jahangir Kowsari
Screenwriters: Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Farid Mestafavi
Cinematography: Hassein Jafarian
Editor: Mastafa Kherghghpoush
American Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Running Time: 93 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not rated by the MPAA
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Sound Format: Stereo
Language: Farsi, with English subtitles
Under The Skin Of The City website