'Captain Abu Raed' Gets Jordanian Cinema Flying

Lindsay Parnell

Captain Abu Raed, one of the most prominent Jordanian films to be released in recent years, is a meditative look at the restorative powers of storytelling. It was a triumph for its director Amin Matalqa, and put the spotlight on Jordan’s fledgling film industry.

Captain Abu Raed Film Poster

Captain Abu Raed was a triumph for its writer-director Amin Matalqa and for Jordan’s film industry, as the film was the country’s first submission to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category. It went on to win widespread acclaim on the 2007 and 2008 international awards circuit, winning honours at Sundance, the Dubai International Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival among others.

Dealing with the debilitating loneliness left in the wake of his wife’s death five years previusly, Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha) is a custodian working in Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport. Though living by quite humble means, Abu Raed’s life drastically alters after he picks a pilot’s hat from the garbage and tries it on.

He is mistaken for a Royal Jordanian captain by local children. What unfolds after this episode of mistaken identity is Raed’s transformation from a janitor to a passionate storyteller of fictional travels, and an inspirational figure to the neighborhood children who are swept away in his tales of adventure and hope. But Murad, an older boy from among the neighborhood children, knowing the truth about Abu Raed’s true identity, becomes fixated on exposing the old man.

After showing the other children Abu Raed as he cleans an airport toilet, the children are distraught in the revelation that Captain Abu Raed never was. But through an act of forgiveness, Abu Raed and Murad form an unlikely bond and intimate friendship. Through their growing relationship, Abu Raed discovers the dark and haunting circumstances surrounding Murad’s home life, and subsequently embarks on a journey to save the young boy and his family. The story powerful illuminates Raed’s profound impact on Murad, whose detrimental home life and adolescence is plagued by violent abuse and petty crime.
Matalqa’s greatest achievement is the deceptive simplicity of Abu Raed’s story — one that exhibits a playful sweetness and quiet courageousness, much like Abu Raed himself, amidst the bleak realities facing these children, poverty and violence. What lies underneath this endearing tale of unlikely friendships and acts of selfless kindness is a considerate allegory examining the existence and function of human intimacy and relationships. Although it has faced criticism for its melodramatic tone, Captain Abu Raed is a thoughtful portrait of a powerful human connection that transcends its dark reality.

Born in Amman, Jordan but raised in the United States, Amin Matalqa studied for his Masters of Fine Arts at the American Film Institute where he showed great promise as a highly gifted filmmaker and storyteller. As a major proponent of Jordanian film, Matalqa is an inspirational force in articulating stories of uplifting human experience outside of the typical Middle Eastern narrative often exhibited in mainstream film.

Matalqa’s sophomore feature film The United was released in 2011 to much praise. The story of a former Egyptian football coach who is convinced by his once-upon-a-time star player to train a squad of oddballs is a stirring tale of personal perseverance and strength amid times of great economic and political struggle. Matalqa’s upcoming releases include a cinematic adaptation of Dostoevsky’s White Nights, entitled Strangely in Love.

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