The City beyond the Celluloid: A Closer Look

How many times have you watched a movie and wished you could explore the city, country or culture that flashed intermittently in the backdrop? Cinema has that effect on people. Then again, some of movies have a unique magnetism that gets magnified through the locales on display, which in themselves were inspiring enough to create that effect on the Big Screen.

We wanted to talk about some interesting movies where the plot and the place are intrinsically related to the narrative (and not a song and dance just to make the frame look pretty!). With a pair of FreshGrub-tinted glasses we invite you to look at these cities from a stylised high-art quotient.

Frida, 2002

Celebrating the life, love and passion for art, ‘Frida’ is a biographic film that does a good job in depicting surrealist Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, her work and her loves.

Whether it is the life altering car trolley accident, the incessant surgeries and iron casts, or the graphic representation of her pain; the movie constantly provokes the audience to see the beauty within her art despite the overbearing dystopia in her dysfunctional world. What’s most compelling about Kahlo’s art is that she (very blatantly) is her own muse! What makes it so special though is how she invokes emotions when you see her work. She is able to bring her inner turmoils on canvas with no inhibition, playing the role of the ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ at the same time.

 Another recurring theme in the movie is Kahlo’s strained marital bond with famous muralist Diego Rivera. Their equation is bittersweet and through bouts of infidelity they find ways to be ‘loyal’ to each other. What’s also interesting is gender dynamics and the appreciation of a female artist, or the lack thereof, in a man’s world. 

Mexico City
Though art is a heavy part of the Mexican culture, exploring the city from a Frida-esque perspective can be very gratifying.

Though posthumous with Frida-mania one can still see remnants of her life, her loves and her inspiration in the Frida Kahlo house.

For those of you who might be interested in a little glimpse of Diego Rivera’s life, you must visit the National Palace. His colorful pieces of art range from early to mid 20th century mural art, and depict have a way of telling the Mexican history right from pre-Hispanic times to the workers’ movement in the 1930s. 
Life on the Streets
If you’re walking down the streets in Mexico, you must go to Plaza Garibaldi, the historical district within Mexico City. This district is home for the tradition of mariachi music, a Mexican genre of music that originated in the colonial period with strong influences in the historical development of Western Mexico.
In the Plaza, you will find different mariachi bands showcasing their talents and people taping their feet in line with the symphony of stringed instruments. This sure is a place where the traditional folklore of the Mexican culture comes alive.
Laid-back Luxury
Popularly known as Mexico city’s own Soho, the Condesa neighborhood serves as a center for the bohemian chic community. Like its namesake, the Condesa Df  serves as an architectural landmark for the old French mansions in the late 1920s, which is also reflected in the design structure within the rooms of this boutique hotel.

 Built around a triangular atrium, the Condesa df has a sun patio restaurant, and a bar with some interesting cocktails including the ‘Horchata’ martini mixed with a sweetened rice drink, and the ‘Jamaica’ margarita which is made by mixing crushed crimson hibiscus.

Condesa Df

Condesa Df

Condesa Df

If you’re willing to travel an hour from Mexico city, another place that may be worth your while is

La Purificadora in Puebla city. Built over a long-standing 19th century factory that was used to purify water, this new incarnation aims to keep ‘purity’ as the center of its structural design. Assembled by renowned Mexican architect, Ricardo Legoretta, this hotel has a unique way of lapping luxury within minimalism.

La Purificadora

La Purificadora

La Purificadora

Sex and the City II, 2010
So you might wince at seeing ‘Sex and the City’ on this list, but you cannot show incomparable grandeur, brazen lavishness and exaggerated luxury without talking about the UAE. The frames in the movie are dominated by vibrant colors in the oriental-inspired designer clothing, as well as the richness in the interiors of their palatial abode. All of this is seemingly incomplete until we see the gorgeous deserts of the Arabic world in the background.

Not to mention, it’s interesting to see the cultural awkwardness that the celebrated women of the west face in a world dominated by unquestionable patriarchal constructs.

Sex and the City 2

Abu Dhabi
As the capital city of the UAE, the augustness of Abu Dhabi is quite telling of what to expect while traversing across the Emirates.
Live it up:
For a little taste of desert opulence, the Qasr La Sarab Desert Resort is high on the do-not-miss list. In the midst of pink desert dunes, orange sky and sun kissed purplish sienna sand; the view from any angle is breathtaking. And when we say grandeur, we mean grandeur.

 Qasr al sarab

With colossal bedrooms, oversized bath-soaks, an infinity pool that can almost be taken literally, and comforts beyond imagination; you too can experience being a part of the blue blood. 

Qasr al sarab

Qasr al sarab

Gulp and guzzle it down:
For the best in sea-food and drinks, the one place that drips with oodles of excess is the Pearls and Caviar, Shangri-La Hotel. A hint of lemon zest, citrus flavors and a dash of olives on scallops is sure to tickle your tastebuds. Some of the other interesting tries include Beluga caviar, wagyu beef with a side of fries from purple potatoes and the Omani kingfish in authentic spices.

With bright silver lighting slides that contrast beautifully with the dusky tableware, it almost looks like liquid mercury is doing its little dance as you dine in the middle of all the glitz and glamor. If you choose to sit outside, the view opens up to the resplendent Sheikh Zayed mosque.

 Pearls and Caviar

Look out for:
As you chug the remains of de repas at Pearls and Caviar, Shangri-La Hotel, you can hop across the road and walk into the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Named after the founding father of the UAE, this grand mosque is the third-largest in the world and has made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for three separate entries including the largest carpet, the biggest chandelier and the largest dome of its kind in the world! Silver filigree twisted by hundreds of artisans has gone into making this giant Iranian carpet, and stretches endlessly from one prayer hall to the next. Using more than a million Swarovski crystals, the artwork of seven giant chandeliers culminate to form a drop at the center. Where as the dome and the minarets are made of marble, encrusted with colored stones and gold encasing throughout the mosque.


Photo Credit: xiquinhosilva

Shop till you drop, souk-style
In Sex and the City II, we do see Carrie and the girls losing and finding their way through intricate mud roads and clandestine stores selling bright colorful little knickknacks. They were shopping at one of the local souks. In olden times, souks served as important trading centers in Abu Dhabi wherein people got together to discuss everyday happenings over a cup of sweetened tea or Arabic coffee. Today they double up as local bazaars where traders and merchants from neighboring towns and cities bring their artisans’ best work and display it for sale. They are a perfect haven for shoppers and often give you a good bargain. Most souks offer traditional oriental spices, expensive Persian rugs, traditional jewelery, exotic perfumes and incense, silver and brass pots, amongst other things.
The most popular tourist shopping spots is the Iranian Souk (also called the Afghan souk) at Al Meena, which is an open-air souk with beautiful wares in vibrant shades. Some of the most interesting finds are colorful hand-made Iranian carpets and oriental rugs, uniquely designed bedspreads, tribal handicrafts, and hand painted pottery.

Photo Credit: jemasmith

If you’re looking out for exquisite jewelry and collector’s trinkets, the Central Market or Grand Souk on Sheikh Hamdan Street may be your shopping destination.

Whether art imitates life or the other way round, exploring a city beyond the director’s frame is a joy that goes beyond pop corn munching wishful thinking!

Curator. Dreamer. Designer. Founder of FreshGrub. Based in NYC. Seeking Inspiration Everywhere.

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