Captain Abu Raed is an engaging Jordanian film about friendship between generations — and courage at any age.
Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha) is an elderly cleaner who works at the airport in Amman. He’s a widower who lives alone, and he generally keeps to himself. One day at work, Abu Raed pulls a pilot’s hat out of the garbage and wears it home. The hat is like a beacon to the kids in his modest neighbourhood, and they immediately begin calling him Captain. If he has the hat, they reason, then he must be a pilot. The local urchins start bugging him to tell tales of his airline adventures, and eventually, Abu Raed begins to make up wonderful stories for their amusement and education.
Well-read himself and a keen student of other cultures, Abu Raed is happy to spin his own dreams of travel into tall tales for the children. His storytelling role changes his own life in subtle ways. Now everyone in the neighbourhood knows who Abu Raed is, and he seems to become more open to the lives and concerns of others. He befriends a female pilot (Rana Sultan) after they have a conversation about books. He pays more attention to a family in his neighbourhood that’s obviously having problems. Only one local child, a wary adolescent named Murad (Hussein Al-Sous), can resist Abu Raed’s fantastic stories. Murad knows very well that the man is just an airport janitor, and he would love to disillusion the other children with the truth. In the end, however, Abu Raed and Murad come to a truce, and it proves to be a lifesaver.
Captain Abu Raed is an utterly charming movie, and has been sent around the world as a sort of ambassador for the Jordanian film industry. It’s the first Jordanian film exported for the world’s cinemas, and, unbelievably, it’s a feature debut for writer/director Amin Matalqa. The movie is a deft character study, and though some of the drama seems designed to wring tears from an audience, the character of Abu Raed is superbly written by Matalqa and brought to life beautifully by Nadim Sawalha. As living proof that wisdom and courage cut through all social differences, Abu Raed is believable and endearing.
The film — Jordan’s entry for the 2009 Academy Awards — has won 27 international movie awards, among them the World Cinema Audience Award from Sundance in ’08. The movie is in Arabic, with English subtitles.
In Toronto, Captain Abu Raed is playing at the Royal Cinema.
(This film is rated PG)