City of Life

Fiona Mackrell

ARAB FILM FESTIVAL: City of Life is a bit of a rock star, directed by hot young thing Ali F Mostafa and around him a cast of famous actors and Emirati TV personalities; it's a film the UAE film industry on the international map.
City of Life
As far as Arab films go City of Life is a bit of a fast-rising rock star. Writing, producing and directing is hot young thing Ali F Mostafa and around him he's pulled together a pedigree cast of famous actors and Emirati TV personalities. It's a film to put him and UAE film industry on the international map. The story intertwines three parallel lives in modern Dubai, which fateful collide, changing all their fortunes. For Fasil (Saoud al Ka'abi), a spoilt young Emirati man and Khalfan (Yassin Alsahman aka The Narcicyst) his far less-fortunate but street-smart childhood friend, a conflict with a street thug spirals their lives and friendship unexpectedly out of control. Fasil is struggling with his Emirati identity, the rich sinful mazzaratti-driving playboy verus the good religious son and the childhood friendship that fits in neither world. Basu (Sonu Sood) is an Indian taxi driver sending his paltry earning back to his family as he dreams of fame and fortune. With his uncanny resemblance to a famous Bollywood star, Peter Patel, he finds work as an impersonator. But Basu doesn't give up the dream of becoming a star himself while struggling to get by in a city that can be harshly indifferent. The third story line follows, Natalia (Alexandra Maria Lara) a former Romanian ballet dancer now living in Dubai and plodding through life as a flight attendant. She's believes she's getting away from the lurid wanton world of her flatmate Olga (Natalie Dormer), when she meets Guy Berger (Jason Flemyng), an exceptionally connected, wealthy and self-assured advertising executive who introduces her to all the excesses of Dubai life. Actor Alexandra Maria Lara grew up in Germany after her parents fled Bucharest, Romania when she was four. Since graduating from the Schuauspielschule she has played leading roles in several TV shows and movies such as Die Bubi Scholz, Der Tunnel, and the Oscar nominated Der Untergang (Downfall). This is the first feature film for Saoud al Ka'abi, who already has an enormous fan base since starting out as Dubai TV's first ever child TV presenter when he was nine. He has remained a regular presenter on some of the most popular shows on Dubai TV and is one of Emirates biggest television stars. Beside him, Yassin Alsahman aka 'The Narcicyst is a respected political hip-hop performer, journalist and peace activist. He has performed with a long list of groups including Euphrates Talib Kweli, Kanye West, and Non Phixion. This is the first international film for another hot property, Punjabi-born Sonu Sood, who's real life is an ironic inversion of his character, Basu. Sood has appeared in over 22 productions in Bollywood and in the southern Indian Tamil and Telugu 'Tollywood' films, he's known for his looks (he moved into acting from a modelling career) and all -round skills including doing his own stunts. City of Life was a co-production between Ali F. Mostafa's AFM films and Filmworks and premiered at the Arabian Nights Gala at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2009. Getting an Emirati film off the ground wasn't easy for Ali F Mostafa who had to contend with dubious investors and even more dubious censors. But he's never been one to not keep trying. While working his way up through the world of commercials, Mostafa directed his first commercial by funding it himself then selling it to Nissan. Since studying at the London Film School he has made a series of short films and documentaries including Under The Sun, which won best Emirates Film 2006, and was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the San Fernando Film Competition held in Abu Dhabi. Going by the preview for City of Life (which is schlick) as it inter-cuts Dubai's glittering night lights, edgy car and motorcycle stunts, and father and son conflicts you might think this was an American-style block bluster with all the high-production values to go with it. The reality however, is a film, which whilst engaging, at times lurches ponderously as it churns through the contrived mingling of the three character's story lines. Sood's performance particularly veers occasionally into hammy moments, which jar in a film trying for something more sophisticated. The real insights of City of Life are in the way it portrays every day life in modern Dubai society. There are the westerners living the capitalist dream, hedonistic, materialist and cut throat on the way to riches, the local Arabs living in the cross-hairs of all the luxury money can buy and the rigidity of tradition, and the immigrant labourers cheap and disposable. The lives of the three main characters, despite the improbability of how they come together, are individually believable and sympathetic; and the themes of hope, love and loyalty universal. This is a film that may mark the first steps in a potentially huge new film industry that cross the Asian and Arab worlds and some of the stars that may well pave its path. ARAB FILM FESTIVAL City of Life Director: Ali Mostafa (profile in ArtsHub) Country: United Arab Emirates Year: 2009 Duration: 97 min Sydney, Thursday 1 July, 8pm, Riverside Theatres Parramatta Melbourne, Friday 9 July, 7pm Cinema Nova Carlton Adelaide, Saturday 24 July, 5pm, Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas Brisbane, Friday 30 July, 7pm, Dendy Cinemas Portside

About the author

Fiona Mackrell is a Melbourne based freelancer. You can follow her at @McFifi or check out www.fionamackrell.com