City of Life


Filmed entirely in Dubai this is the debut feature from Ali Mostafa Discuss this article

Filmed and set entirely in Dubai, City of Life – the first ever feature from an Emirati director – works best when we’re invited into a world more commonly hidden from public view: behind the closed doors of Emirati homes, and in the hours after the city’s taxi drivers clock off. Far from being a ‘sun, sea, sand and seven stars’ advert for Dubai, the film draws a clear distinction between the lifestyle enjoyed by privileged Emirati Faisal (Saoud Al Kaabi) and the grimmer realities – and more limited opportunities – that face Indian cabbie Basu (Sonu Sood). But the film is not without its problems.

The narrative follows three intertwined storylines, the third focusing on European couple Guy (Jason Flemyng) and Natalya (Alexandra Maria Lara). City of Life’s weakest moments lie with this pair, 2D characters caught up in a less-than-interesting love affair. Their embarrassingly clichéd story just doesn’t ring true, especially at its close. To make matters worse, some of their scenes are edited together in such an amateurish ‘just out of film school’ style as to invite ridicule.

Erase them from the film, though, and it’s an impressive effort. Bearing in mind this is the first time anyone has made a big-budget movie in the UAE, and that Mostafa must surely have had to be very careful with the material to get his film into cinemas here, City of Life tells two engaging stories filled with funny and genuinely affecting moments. The local talent on display, too, is revealing of a rich home-grown resource ripe for picking.

Yes, Mostafa employs one too many long-tired Hollywood conventions – this is, in many ways, Crash in Dubai, and do we really need a villain to have one brown eye and one blue eye to show us he’s a bad egg? – but there are stories here we haven’t heard before, and that’s no small achievement (anyone disbelieving that Emirati gangs exist would do well to remember the young boy stabbed to death in Rashidiya earlier this year after getting caught up in a gang fight). At times, City of Life shows a city you probably never knew was there.

By Laura Chubb
Time Out Doha,

City of Life

  • Released: Thu, 20 May
  • Classification: 18+
  • Language: Arabic
  • Director: Ali F. Mostafa
  • Stars: Jason Flemyng, Natalie Dormer, Alexandra Maria Lara, Susan George, Ahmed Ahmed, Javed Jaffrey, Sonu Sood, Ahmed Alkhoori, The Narcicyst, Natasha Kemball, Saoud Al Kaabi, Gary 'Si-Jo' Foo, Zhamilya Basar

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