City of Life is about Dubai. Instant appeal on that point alone. Several weeks into release and people still flocked to the theatres that did screen the first mainstream Emirati feature film. It was a rare chance to see Karama's City Corner supermarket, the massive DIFC and other landmarks, iconic on levels global and local, on the silver screen in a slick film with world-class cinematography.
And if the production values weren't enough, the casting seems to have pulled in some major star power. The Tudors' Natalie Dormer played the role of an Eastern European flight attendant, and Jason Flemyng, who starred in the likes The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Clash of the Titans, played a high-living British advertising exec. The talents of Indian film industry big-timers Javed Jaffrey and Sonu Sood powered the South Asian cohort, playing an entertainment kingpin and a taxi driver respectively. While I am not really acquainted with the Arab film world, I thought Ahmed Ahmed and The Narcicyst did well as Emiratis in different social strata, trying to reconcile austere tradition with glamorous modernity.
When I first heard, long ago, that the film revolved around a car crash as a denouement, I feared it might be a remake of the multi-Oscar Crash. Fortunately, it was not. Three plot streams, one European, one South Asian, and one Emirati, did converge at said crash. With dialog delivered partly in native tongues and subtitled when so, each story depicted the experiences of living in Dubai for each group. Posh villas and yachts. Hovels and taxis. The small cafeteria with creatively-named juice mixes. The dusty lanes in the rough-hewn bungalow communities. The soaring towers sparkling with light reflected off other soaring towers. The glitzy parties. The seedy bars.
We also get to see glimpses of realistic but (in Dubai) taboo themes, like premarital sex (officially illegal here), amateur road stunt displays, ethnic stereotyping, worker exploitation and young Muslims' occasional haram indulgences. One would expect the villains to get their just desserts in the end, of course. That said, I could not help but get a pontification-heavy vibe off the film at some points, especially towards the finale.
I still recommend the film as a whole, the work of director and writer Ali F. Mostafa. The film definitely hits all the right spots for a Dubaiker. We get a glimpse into the experiences of different social classes, different cultures and different story-lines, all reflected to some extent in the real society, demographics and happenings in Dubai. Especially the interweaving of plot devices within and among the plot-lines, the film paces and develops well. The production quality is, once again, world-class, and the use of camera techniques is excellent. Mostafa hopes to see Emirati films as regular theatre features, and I wish him and other Dubai-based film-makers all the best for that.