DIFF ’09: City Of Life Review
City of Life, the UAE production helmed by an Emarati filmmaker, is history in the making. Being the first UAE big-budget production, the ensemble piece exceeds expectations with strong acting and visuals and successfully captures the essence of Dubai. No one could wish for a better launching pad for the local industry. In the vein [...]
City of Life, the UAE production helmed by an Emarati filmmaker, is history in the making. Being the first UAE big-budget production, the ensemble piece exceeds expectations with strong acting and visuals and successfully captures the essence of Dubai. No one could wish for a better launching pad for the local industry.
In the vein of multiple storyline narratives like ‘Crash’, ’21 Grams’ and ‘The Air I Breathe’, City of Life deals with three interconnected parallel storylines that are set in Dubai and collide with each other – a taxi driver (Sonu Sood) aims to make it big in Bollywood when a chance encounter changes his life, a privileged Emirati (Saoud Al Kaabi) who takes advantage of his elite status is forced to face reality when his friend (Yassin Alsalman) lands in trouble, and a European air hostess’ affair with a high roller (Jason Flemyng) turns ugly.
The biggest achievement of City of Life is that the film isn’t just a drama ‘set’ in Dubai; it’s a film ‘about’ Dubai. The film effortlessly captures the city of Dubai on celluloid and brings it to life with an honest portrayal of all classes embodying it. A glimpse into the elite Sheikhs’ lives shows us that not all is what is seen from the outside and they face similar problems like everyone else. The lower class is dramatized with a brilliant choice of going with the story of a taxi driver, an occupation with most drivers daring to dream higher while living a below standard lifestyle. It also manages to capture the nightlife and the plight of expat Russians looking for rich Arabs. Anyone not living in the city may not get some of the references but is sure to be enlightened by it.
Another shining spot of the movie, something that anyone would first notice about the film is its brilliant production values. Being a debut production, it is tremendously shot and cinematographed with the right combination of blue tint highlighting the metropolis’ best features. Rivaling Hollywood productions in its look, the stunts and action scenes in the film are brilliantly choreographed especially the massive car crash towards the end. This is no cheap production and was in the hands of professionals, and it shows.
City of Life, however, is not without its flaws. The multiple storyline narrative has been done a number of times in Hollywood (most notably in Paul Haggis’ ‘Crash’) and apart from its setting, the movie doesn’t do much different with it. Among the three storylines, the storyline involving the air hostess comes across with the least amount of conflict and drama as it just moves along leisurely for the most part with the only hard choice coming towards the end. Also, the ending of the Emarati’s storyline comes across as heavy handed in its message.
Everyone gives their level best in the film with the highlights being Sonu Sood and Saoud Al Kaabi. Sood was always known as an underrated actor and hopefully this movie will change that, since his subtle performance as an aspiring artist comes across as heartfelt and emotional since we can all relate to it. For newcomers to acting, Saoud Al Kaabi and Yassin Alsalman give their best and turn their storyline to the strongest in the film. Natalie Dormer impresses with a limited role and so does Javed Jaffrey. Jason Flemyng, however cliché his character may be, adds a spark of life into the storyline.
Flaws aside, City of Life is a remarkable feat considering its origin and has successfully jumpstarted the local film industry with a shining example of a successful debut by a newcomer (Ali Mostafa) who should gain some international recognition with the film. The standing ovation it received at the end of the world premiere has proved its approval from the audience and how it related to everyone living in the one of the most misunderstood cities of them all – Dubai.
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