Under the Skin of the City is another fine down-to-earth, social realism film from Iran.
This one, directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, is about a working class family in Tehran who are faced with serious concerns. Tuba (Golab Adineh), the matriarch of the family, tries to keep her family together. She works in a factory but her son Abbas (Mohammad Reza Foroutan) – the other family breadwinner - wants to leave for a job in Japan with the promise that he will come back a rich man. Tuba's other son is a political activist who causes some trouble in the family.
On top of this Tuba's husband is in a wheelchair and doesn't work but that doesn't stop him from taking the significantly unwise move of selling the families house to pay for Abbas' trip abroad before the trip is a reality. Adding to the stress of the family is the fact that Tuba's daughter - who lives next door - suffers physical abuse by her husband.
This is the stuff of melodrama but it is well handled and not manipulative. All the scenes play out in a relatively realistic fashion. Ms. Bani-Etemad's mise-en-scene is very natural and flows effortlessly between scenes; so effortlessly in fact that the film sometimes feels too loose. It takes a good hour before the various plots come together and the members of the family can be figured out.
This being a film made in Iran, the circumstances of the main character's challenges are only amplified by the fact that the society itself is oppressive. All of the women wear the full length shawls and head coverings and the director makes it a point that we see this.
Under the Skin of the City also has a self-conscious cinematic element to it by framing a TV interview with Tuba at the beginning, which speaks to the film's political message: A message that clearly tells us that the personal and the political can rarely be bifurcated.
How does it Look?
The film has the feeling of both a documentary (its look) and a TV quality (it's story). The aspect ratio is 1.85:1 and the film has the grainy look of a film made in the 1970's.
How does it Sound?
The film is presented in Farsi language stereo with subtitles. The sound is not particularly formidable but everything can be heard just fine. Often the film has a street noise feel to it lending to the natural way the story unfolds.
The English subtitles can be removed.
Under the Skin of the City is a good Iranian melodrama that fans of Iranian cinema should consider seeing. The film has little surprises and is not as significant as some of the recent Iranian cinema that has come to the U.S. over the past 10 years. But it is well directed the message about the struggles of working class families in Iran is unmistakable.