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Under The Skin Of The City


Under The Skin Of The City


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In Under The Skin Of The City, Golab Adineh plays a Tehranian woman with an exhausting factory job, one son desperately trying to save enough money to work abroad, another immersing himself in the politics of reform, a daughter abused by her husband, another consumed with worry for her abused best friend, and a husband whose injuries prevent him from lending much of a hand. A couple of decades ago, in another part of the world and another sort of movie, she could have been the protagonist of a Pedro Almodóvar melodrama, and headed toward orchestrated chaos and a happy ending. But in the hands of writer-director Rakhshan Bani Etemad, the chaos only begets more chaos, and happy endings seem out of the question. Any resemblance to problems actually faced by working-class Iranians isn't the least bit coincidental. Long a well-regarded director in her own country, but only now receiving attention in the U.S., Bani Etemad divides her energy between narrative features and documentaries, and doesn't have a problem letting the concerns of one form drift into the other. First conceived in the mid-'80s, Skin passed through several script incarnations, each of which served as a catch-all for the problems of the day, and each of which was rejected by government authorities. Released in Iran to great popularity in 2001, the film backtracks slightly by setting its action on the eve of the 1997 elections that ushered in pro-reform candidates, but any suggestion of a brighter tomorrow is left until the credits have finished rolling. At times, Bani Etemad succeeds only too well at capturing the confusing rush of Adineh's family life–the film presents more subplots than it can follow thoroughly, until its final act snaps all that's come before into sharp focus. Skin is framed by TV interviews that attempt to use Adineh's character to gain insight into the elections from a working woman's perspective, and end up reducing her to incoherent soundbites. The film seems determined to correct that sort of omission, and if Bani Etemad's first intent is to instruct, Skin's cinematic qualities take her beyond that goal. Adineh shoulders an impossible burden and then watches, with only the slightest suggestion that her children might live a better life, as forces beyond her control continue to increase it. Through it all, she does what she has to do. When the survival of others is part of the equation, even living on the verge of a nervous breakdown ceases to be an option.