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Saoud Al Kaabi,
A privileged young male Arab at odds with his cultural identity and his less fortunate street smart friend; a disillusioned Indian taxi driver who bears an uncanny resemblance to a famous Bollywood star; and a former Romanian ballet dancer now working as a flight attendant and searching for love and companionship ... these individuals all live in Dubai and their lives are about to collide for better or for worse in a city where ambition, growth and opportunity are encouraged and dreams can still manifest. "City of Life" is an urban drama that tracks the various intersections of a multi-ethnic cast, examining how random interactions and their consequences can irrevocably impact another's life. As the name suggests, City of Life's inordinately humane kaleidoscope of converging experiences introduces a city that is in itself a living pulsating character. "City of Life" ultimately reveals how unexpected tragedy and loss can lead to hope and profound transformation as it explores and ... Written by
Bold and almost controversial, but the dawn of an era in UAE as a cinema producing market.
Premiering on December 11th 2009 at the Dubai International Film Festival, this is the first feature film by Emarati director Ali f Mostafa. Besides co-producing the film, Mostafa also wrote the original script which paints an almost true to life portrait of life in Dubai. The screenplay shuffles between a struggling Indian taxi driver (Basu) and his ambitions of setting foot into the Bollywood film industry, a former Romanian ballet dancer working as a flight attendant (Natalia) for a prominent Dubai based airline and a wealthy young Emarati (Faisal) caught between preserving his cultural identity and maintaining his family's reputation. Unknown to each other, the lives of these three individuals are destined to collide, resulting in shattered dreams, a knock of opportunity and a tragic awakening.
I first saw this film on a flight bound for Dubai. Although my movie experience was hampered by a palm sized screen, the constant boom of the engines outside and the unpredictable flicker of the overhead seatbelt signs, I was engrossed by the drama unfolding on my seven inch screen. Not because of its well penned story, but because of the very nature of the story- A plausible day in the life of an expatriate or UAE national or almost any Tom, Dick and Harriet living in Dubai. For this, Mostafa builds his story around the lives of individuals whose cultural identities and way of life form the very cogs that drive this country- the ambitious Indian expat, the highly social European expat, and the privileged UAE national. As a whole, the film is not ground breaking in terms of production value, but it is soul stirring, especially if like me, you have been raised in this country. Recognizable are some of the locations used for filming, starting with Basu's room in Al Karama, Natalia and her Russian colleague in Jumairah, Faisal's best friend, khalfan's residence in the shanty parts of old Satwa and various other locations that are identifiable, including Dubai International Airport and the Emirates Training College. Although visible in some scenes and on the movie poster, the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, was not given proper screen time as the tower was not entirely complete at the time of this film's release.
Made from a shoe string budget and lacking expertise from big named studios, an independent production like this always faces the risk of a hit or miss. For the sake of all things that are real and beautiful in Dubai, I am compelled to say that this is a well made film and an instant hit with the multi-cultural residents of Dubai and the surrounding Emirates. Mostafa's storytelling has an inner meaning, complete with a few moral messages. One of these is the strong suggestion that Dubai is not skin deep, or a fake place or a bubble about to burst, but a very real place where growth and opportunities await those determined enough to rise to the challenge. On the flip side, there also awaits a fair share of tragedies for those who are misguided victims of temptation or over indulgence. This is where Mostafa excels in portraying the real Dubai as opposed to outside perception. For the most part, he gets it right. There are, however, certain points in the plot that are too coincidental. Additionally, there is the overbearing cliché where Dubai is projected as a 'cultural melting plot' a suggestive phrase used in countless travel brochures and advertisements meant for importing tourism.
Onto the production front and we have a mostly decent attempt at contemporary cinema. Cinematography is a factor that definitely appears to have been given considerable thought. Close-ups are plenty in low light, without much depth of field (blurry background). Most major landmarks out of Dubai's cityscapes appear to be in some frame or the other. Special effects are almost non-existent except for a particular scene towards the end which does bear the trademarks of mainstream cinema. However, action scenes with fight sequences seem below average or worse than some made-for-TV productions. In the confines of a character driven film, acting is not exactly Oscar material, but decent enough as Mostafa's directional debut. Bollywood actor Sonu Sood fits into the role of the Indian taxi driver with ease. Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara could have been better in her role as Natalia especially after her claim to fame with the Academy Award nominated film, "Downfall". Playing Emarati youths are Saoud Al Kaabi as Faisal and Yassin Alsalman (AKA the Narcisyst) as Khalfan in standout roles, and are very convincing as carefree young Emaratis living off family wealth. Canadian musician of Iraqi origin but born and raised in the UAE, The Narcisyst has one of the best roles in the film as Faisal's trusted friends. Last but not he least is some great stuff from Jason Flemyng as Natalia's love interest. Of course, no introduction is needed for a veteran actor such as Flemyng having recently appeared in the 2011 release of "X-Men: First Class".
In its sum, "City of Life" is a memorable film being that it is the first of its kind in the UAE. Its story and message is bold yet controversial. As a story, it pits together ambition, privilege, opportunity, tragedy and shame, some of which are experienced by all Dubai residents at some point or the other. The credit for depicting these trials and triumphs on screen with affluent storytelling belongs to Ali F Mostafa. By the look and feel of this film, I am sure he is the next best thing in Cinema, this side of the globe. As a young Emarati director, Mostafa has set the standard for things to come.
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