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Under the Skin of the City

Posted by martinteller on May 15, 2013

Tuba (Golab Adineh) has a lot on her plate.  Her husband Mahmoud (Mohsen Ghazi Moradi) is crippled, so she brings home the bacon working in a textile factory.  Her daughter Mahboubeh (Baran Kosari) and son Ali (Ebrahin Sheibani) live at home.  Ali has been skipping school to participate in leftist demonstrations.  Her oldest daughter Hamideh (Homeira Riazi) is pregnant with her second child, and frequently returns home when she’s been beaten by her husband.  And oldest son Abbas (Mohammad Reza Forutan) works as an errand boy for a clothing shop, but has dreams of going to Japan to further his career.  But the visa costs money and what Abbas wants to do is sell the family home, promising that the money he’ll earn overseas would buy four new houses.  Tuba is getting old and dealing with asthma, the last thing she wants to do is move.  And to make matters worse, the girl next door (Mehraveh Sharifinia) is regularly beaten by her brother and when she runs away, Mahboubeh tries to help her… with disastrous results.

This is my first experience with director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad.  Her work — at least in this case — is not as conceptual or original as many of her Iranian contemporaries, but she has a flair for family drama.  There are numerous plot threads and characters to keep track of, but one rarely feels lost.  And the opening and closing scenes, involving a documentary crew, does have some of that meta-ness that makes so much Iranian cinema intriguing.

Overt political commentary is kept to a minimum, but there is certainly a strong feminist viewpoint at play here.  Tuba keeps the family in line, and it’s mainly when people take action behind her back that things start to fall apart.  Despite the fact that she’s bothered by her persistent cough, she works like hell to keep everything together.  The point is made that Iranian women are expected to maintain the household, regardless of whether or not they have a job, and that violence from husbands and relatives just comes with the territory.  When she tries to make an important business transaction, the man tells her he won’t deal with women and she should come back with her husband.

The cinematography is primarily functional, focused mainly on telling the story rather than going for expressive shots (Bani-Etemad did have to fight for one shot, though… of Adineh washing her hair).  It seemed a little on the dark side but that may have been just a subpar transfer.  Adineh is very strong in the central role, showing concern and impatience and love with her children.  She is the type of hard-working, long-suffering mother you can imagine in a family from any culture.  The other actors all manage well enough, although there are moments when Forutan seems to be overdoing it a bit.

Very watchable drama with some incisive social observations.  Rating: Very Good (81)


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