Captain Abu Raed | A Jordanian Review

Author’s Note: Last night Amin Matalqa’s Captain Abu Raed premiered for the first time in Jordan. I’ve reviewed many, many movies on the Black Iris, but this was by far one of the greatest films I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. There will continue to be a great deal of buzz and reviews surrounding the film so I thought that I would provide a review that was uniquely Jordanian.

The film tells the story of an airport janitor, Abu Raed. A widower and a bit lonely, he lives vicariously through his books. Upon being mistaken by a neighbourhood kid for being a pilot, he begins to weave stories of grand adventures for a local group of children. Meanwhile, the film depicts the lives of Noor, an upper-class pilot whose parent’s are keen on her being married, as well as two neighbourhood kids, one of whom is abused by his father and the other whose father insists he sell wafers on the street instead of attending school. All these characters orbit in Abu Raed’s universe and conspire simultaneously to push his involvement in their lives.

The film is a real depiction of what can be considered an average Jordanian’s life. It is a film about the current clash between the upper and lower classes of the country in light of the growing gap, as well as the people who have fallen between the cracks. Beyond the coating of themes that include dreams, loneliness and finding hope in despair, there are deeper constructs that include poverty and abuse, which are extremely relative to Jordanian society.

Meanwhile, the script is peppered with comedic elements that are derived strictly from real life scenarios, gestures and facial expressions that international audiences might find humorous but will leave Arab audiences in stitches. How the film is able to handle the balance of both the light and dark elements of the story is simply superb, with much credit being given to its creator, Amin Matalqa and his crew. Every scene is detailed in deliberately captured colors that set the tone and mood. At times, the camera will linger longer than usual, but just long enough to capture a facial expression or a silent exchange, both of which lead actor Nadim Sawalha is rightfully brilliant at depicting. Meanwhile, the child actors, lead by Hussein Al-Sous and Udey Al-Qiddissi, who play Murad and Tareq respectively, are impressive and sharp in both their portrayals of troubled kids as well as their ability to play off a seasoned actor such as Sawalha.

In between the acting and directing, is a vivid production of Amman, portraying the city intimately and often times even making use of the Abdoun bridge as a metaphor for the gap between rich and poor. Whether this is intentional or simply interpretative is debatable, however one thing is for sure, there is no sugar-coating of the Jordanian reality.

To top it off is Austin Wintory’s amazing score, which seems to overwhelm the film at moments where it shouldn’t, but for the most part successfully elevates the story. Some have found the musical choices to be troubling, and felt it too westernized for an Arab film. In my opinion, besides the Jordanian staple “Ya Sa’ed” playing during a comedic moment, the orchestra-driven score has the ability to set the tone of certain scenes that is difficult to do any other way.

Captain Abu Red is a wonderfully crafted film that brings the woes, hopes and dreams of the Jordanian people to the forefront. The tale of hopes and dreams have the ability to overcome even the grimmest social realities is a bold message that is delivered with a raw energy through sad characters trying to find their way; trying to do the right thing.

30 Comments

  • Loved the review, I am sure it was one great movie. Amin Matalqa continues to prove his amazing talents.

    I would really like to watch both Captain Abu Raed and Caramel, but like Secratea said, I have no clue how I can get them.

    🙁

  • I’m glad you enjoyed it Nas. It was fun seeing the parts I had watched being filmed too.

    Caramel is opening in Seattle this weekend I think.

    Why are these movies easier to see in the US than in the Levant? Seems opposite right?

  • As the local Jordanian newspapers didn’t publish the showtimes today for some reason, here they are:

    Playing in theaters starting today:

    Grand Cinema – Citymall:
    12:00, 2:30, 5:00, 7:15, 9:30, 11:45

    Grand Zara:
    11:00, 1:30, 4:00, 6:30, 9:00, 11:15

    Galleria Abdoun:
    11:00, 3:00, 4:00, 7:00

  • “by far one of the greatest films you’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.”? Really?
    I know sometimes I can exaggerate a bit with my movie reviews, but not to this extent. I mean, come on, seriously. not to say the movie isn’t great, I know we’re all excited about the first “real” Jordanian movie, and I’m pretty sure Amin did a fantastic job and the movie was excellent but lets be a bit impartial here ya3ni 🙂

    However, I have not seen the movie yet, thankfully I’ll be in Amman next week and i’ll try my best to attend it. 🙂

  • maha: lol, no comment 😀

    bakkouz: it’s a jordanian review, hence it’s meant to be impartial, hence the author’s note. did you miss that? it was like the first line of the post man. also, if i remember correctly, you once put the movie “stardust” on par with Lord of the rings…so you really don’t get to criticize me when it comes to my reviews lol 😀

  • Yes yes, I too admitted my fault and overly exaggerating sometimes 😛
    However, I shall have my say about Captain Abu Raed when i watch it, Hopefully i’ll try to be impartial myself, though I am not sure I’ll be able to. 😉
    but indeed i am very much looking forward to watching it, more than i have for any film in quite a while.

  • After almost two years of endless hype, the expectations were set way too high, and it was impossible to match the hype even if one ended up making the Arabic hybrid-version of The Shawshank Redemption and Trainspotting
    Add to this that I am negative human being by nature, and that cinema taste is a highly subjective matter and here are my brief thoughts:

    The plot had no flow and was disjointed all over the place. The domestic violence thingie takes center stage late in the movie and overpowers everything. The narration gets a little boring especially after the 1:20 mark. Some scenes like the “hunchback of Notre Dame smashing your head with a rock thingie” was absolutely unnecessary, and just like many other scenes it felt like a filler.

    The ending was very irrational with hopes of attracting sympathy; after all who tries to have a life-changing heartily conversation with a drunkard at dawn right after his wife and kids are stolen away …Abu Raed was asking for it. You don’t kidnap the man’s wife and kids and ask him to react rationally, especially when he is drunk. Murad growing up to be a pilot was seen coming faster than the “You’ve got Mail” ending.

    The supporting characters although funny at times were shallow and had minimal contribution to the plot. The lead female character disappears for a good 30 minutes in the middle of the movie.

    While the movie was light on the clichés of Jordanian drama – (it did have its “shoo bitgool” moments like: “But he is beating you up and the kids too!!” but in general it avoided them) but of course not without making up for it through the clichés of American drama. Maybe a justifiable trade for a startup director who is trying to break away from Arab drama clichés. On many occasions it felt like the script was written in English and translated to Arabic. For example when Abu Raed hand Murad the pilot hat the line “It’s ok” worked much better for me than “ma3laish”.

    Camera
    There were some great shots and camera angles in the movie. Unfortunately they were ruined by overemphasis. The director is so in love with his photography he is literarily screaming at you: “Isn’t that a great shot …seriously look what can I do with a camera …can you see Abu Raed standing in the dark in front of this door with a fluorescent light on top…isn’t it great.. here look at it some more (still). What about that split screen with the kids washing their hands and the mother cooking…damn I’m good”. Then you can see him in the background proceeds to high fiving himself. Nevertheless the artsy fartsy part of the shooting was not that bad.

    On many occasions camera zooms were unnecessary and unnatural. When the kid hands Abu Raed his bags back why do we need a zoom and three cuts to the hand exchange and back. In one of Murad’s early encounters with captain Abu Raed you could actually feel the jerking action of the camera as it zooms towards Murad. On end of “Abu Raed and the female lead character are driving away from the airport in her car” scene I can easily tell you the number of Abu Raed nose hairs.

    On a separate note, how many shots of East Amman’s building crammed on top of each can you squeeze in a two-hour film? Okay, we got.it…it is not a secret that East Amman looks great when you look at it while enjoying your 8JDs continental breakfast at Wild Jordan. All fifteen bars, restaurants and coffee shops which have this view know it. And what’s up with the Amman landmarks: the flag, the bridge, the castle mountain, the car museum, the mosque … Ministry of Tourism promotional videos has less emphasis on landmarks…I spent the whole movie waiting a shot of Petra and the guy water skiing in Aqaba. Oh well, I guess one have to keep the target audience in mind.

    Kids exploitation.
    No plot can force the audience into fake “ahhs and ooohs” like a bunch of poor kids. With the chubby dancing kid as the cherry on top. Maybe a few cute cats with pink ribbons could have done a better job. Or maybe a cute dog playing the improbable Ammanite stray doggie. Dureid Lahham played a similar version of Abu Raed in Kafroon , with a tighter plot and a more genuine and loveable lead.

    Sexual tension
    Maybe I have a perverted view on things but wasn’t there a little too much sexual tension between Abu Raed and the lead female character? If anything it was more probable than the unclear father-daughter relationship – if that’s what the director was shooting for. At the conclusion of the “laying on their backs sharing worries on the roof” scene. there could have been easily a cute awkward kiss, ending with uncomfortable silence and “I have to go now” …cut… Now that’s directing.

    Conclusion
    Think about it as a bunch of college students studying abroad who put together a Dabkeh show for international week. It may not be exactly be traditional Dabkeh, the costumes have nothing to do with the traditional ones, the coordination is minimal and three quarters of the participants have never seen a dabkeh before. But with some loud music and jumping around, everybody loves it and it leaves a good impression

    The best thing that can be said about the movie is it is the anti-FUBU. It is a movie made by them for them (and “them” is not meant to imply anything negative). From Amman’s skyline to the made-up kids’ school uniforms (so the brown jump suits does not present Jordan in a positive manner?) the target audience is the international stage and the Sundance film festival.

    The director has never claimed that he is trying to make a cinematographic masterpiece. He wanted to make a decent film with good resources and a professional crew to present Arabs and Jordan from a perspective that breaks stereotypes…..etc, etc. The target audience liked it and that means it was successful. So congratulations

    Personally, I liked Suffi Suffi much better.

  • The Sundance target audience?? They are all die hard filmmakers and film addicts. Hardly the average commercial audience. It’s so sad if this film was not made for Jordanians in mind. I haven’t seen it yet but very looking forward to next week when I return to Amman. Thanks for the review.

  • I saw the film at Sundance and liked it a great deal. I reviewed it at Sundanceexperience.com

    The film did win the World Dramatic Audience award at Sundance, so a lot of people at the festival did like it.

    I was interested in the reaction in Jordan, thanks. As an American, the film certainly made me want to visit the city of Amman.

    …there could have been easily a cute awkward kiss, ending with uncomfortable silence and “I have to go now” …cut… Now that’s CLICHE!

  • Thank you Nas for the lovely review. I’m very excited with the audience reactions here in Jordan. I’ve heard too many people compare it to their favorite movies like Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino. So I’m very honored and satisfied. You’ll always have the naysayers who were simmered in jealousy before they were born, but I enjoy reading their comments as it’s a great source of entertainment for me and a mere reflection of the goggles they wear when looking at the world around them.

    All my best,
    Amin

  • Dashshirhum ya Amin hadol jama3et copy-paste 3ala kull il reviews wara hawiyyat wa asamee za2ifeh wa musta3arah.

    Posting Musa’s comment on one blog has some originality to it and keeps some respect to his opinion as he backs it with words describing the movie, but the whole concept of a movie and especially captain abu raed is what the magic of directing, acting and music do to those words.

    Having said that, the so called “Musa” lost my respect when he went on copying and pasting his comment on every review captain abu raed had on the net, that simply shows insecurity, low self esteem and a hunger to supress any NATIONAL effort to improve Jordan’s image abroad through art and films.

    Personally, Captain Abu Raed rafa3 daghtee, I had tears in my eyes all through out the movie, tears from the heart. whether it was the opening scene when Abu Raed speak to um raeds portrait hung on the wall or the abuse scenes or the lonliness in each child’s eyes the list goes on and on with the Jordanian flag at the end credits topping it all off, man what a feeling I had, kunt biddee afadddeee baghet talag kamleh bi nuss icinema 3al mashhad hadak.

    This movie relates to Jordanians’ lives at every level possible, I could not think of one aspect of Jordanianism not represented in this movie, ohhh except for the poor haters in our society…. and next time buddy choose some different for letters for ur name… keep it real as they say in America or perhaps England…

    My hat goes off to Amin, Laith, David Prtichard and the rest of the crew at Paper and Pen Prod. co. and the Captain Abu Raed Caast and Crew… You have amazed us all and I am very proud of the fact that not only does this film build cultural bridges between Our Jordan and the rest of the world, it builds much needed social bridges within our Jordanian Society, what an original and noble thing to do, Nashamah!

  • On a more positive note,

    Captain Abu Raed is not just a movie it is the spark to a social revolution, where teebeh and asalah conquer what elitism and corporate culture models portrayed in foriegn theatrical productions have been doing to Jordanians’ view towards life.

    Finally a movie by Jordanians that Jordanians can relate, reflect and respond to. Hopefully Jordanians will flock to watch this stuff rather than some American productions like “sex and the city,” “grey’s …”nip tuck” etc… that have nothing on earth to do with our culture or country and draw morally bankrupt models –far from our honor, pride and nobelty– for Jordanians of all ages… finally something meanigfull and real that Jordanians can relate to… C.A.R is the best anti-dote to any social venom, the attention to detail and degree to which personalities, events and scinarios are representive of Jordanians and their way of living is so accurate! Well done! Anyone watching this movie could not but conclude that every scene was done with Jordanians in heart and mind; Jordanians: the people where the life, blood and roots of the CAR team come from… if you take care of your roots you dont even have to care about how tall the tree is going to be. The way I and many others see it; the awards Captain Abu raed earned are a testiment and asertive answers to al the media attention (( “Hype” ) the new blog buzzword of the week!)) CAR has received in all stages of production…. Full theatres only say more…

  • Amin,
    It is great to see you appreciating those who took the time not only to watch your over-hyped work, but also took time to engage in a discussion about it. But after all who needs the opinion of “fake and made up names who are wearing goggles and of course jealous” people when the Royal family liked it.
    Glad you were entertained.

    Faisal,
    I understand that it is only natural for you to stand up for your brother’s work even it were crap. And of course anyone who tries to voice objective opinion about you brother’s movie is not only a hater but also a made up copy-paster (whatever that means).

    “The so called “Musa” lost my respect when he went on copying and pasting his comment on every review captain abu raed had on the net, that simply shows insecurity, low self esteem” is so wrong on so many levels it qualifies to be the most ignorant statement since “Abu Raed is the first and best Jordanian film”.

  • Allow me to go off ….

    When Nas says ” this was by far one of the greatest films I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.” I fully agree with him! For many of us who were waiting, anticipating and scouting every piece of information about this movie for over a year this has been an experience not just some random movie you watch! So yes i would say it’s the greatest movie i ever experienced..i usually just watch movies! I watched someone else’s dream come true and was so thrilled about it as if it was my own…that’s what many Jordanians experienced. If it wasn’t for the Jordanian movie at Sundance i don’t think i would’ve cared to go to Sundance or to Utah in freezing January. I was so proud of the Jordanians at Sundance who got standing ovations at every screening from a much more critical audience than Jordan’s, I was proud when random strangers at SLC airport said “Captain Abu Reeaad” was their favorite , as if i myself have worked on the film.

    Musa
    I have seen too many overpowering unnecessary filler “thingies” in movies to know Captain Abu Raed had none and was wonderfully done. Foreseeing the ending of a movie is never a flaw in the story.Doesn’t the hero always saves the day? Don’t all boy meets girl movies end up with happily ever after ?? Don’t people watch these movies anyways? It’s the story that flows and gets you there …maybe you had a hard time following the storyline because you were busy taking mental notes of all the things you can pick on.

    Regarding the “it’s ok” ma3laish thingie….i happen to use ma3laish in my daily language if your 3angalizi language uses “it’s ok” then it’s your issue if ma3laish seems forced in the dialog. By the way the movie was clear in depicting the part of society that uses English and the eastern Ammani that doesn’t, but i guess it all flew over your head, like most of the movie.

    “The director is so in love with his photography he is literarily screaming at you: “Isn’t that a great shot ” …Then you can see him in the background proceeds to high fiving himself. Nevertheless the artsy fartsy part of the shooting was not that bad.<— Dude WTF is this?? The flat out hating is absolutely pathetic ..i’d tell you to save it for an Amin Matalga roast since you’re getting all personal, but roasts need to be witty ….Makyood o gosr thail yaz3ar willa sho?

    As to the sexual tension, ya it’s you who’s perverted and it’s all in your head.
    Amman’s skyline scenes were something i specially LOVED in this movie..how can anyone not appreciate those beautiful scenes!! I got shivers down my spine watching them.

    SO Musa …min el akher you could’ve just said captain Abu Raed is crap without writing 13 paragraphs to appear as a wonderfully objective critic. The international movie audience and expert critics are all FOOLS what do all THEM people know right?…seriously dude ..you’re full of it!!

  • Maha,
    Great effort. Although given the fact that you actually worked on the film you are more prone to having personal feelings interfere with your judgment, but again this is understandable.

    Now See, isn’t this much better for the movie and for the development its director if we engage in a conversations about its fine details other than just shower them with empty praise while waving a Jordanian flag?

    I admitted beforehand that I happen to be a negative and bitter person, which still entitles me to my opinion on stuff. Especially art work. Where some people may think the “Titanic” is a masterpiece that is worth standing ovations and repeated watching, some others may think it is one of the worst movies ever made.

    You are absolutely right that it would have been much easier to just say Captain abu Raed is crap except that I neither think it is absolute crap nor would I issue such vague and general verdicts. There is nothing personal about the whole deal, but it is just illogical to present the thing as an international world-class production, and then ask for complete immunity from criticism because its a Jordanian movie after all.

  • English comprehension 101
    “as if i myself have worked on the film. ” means i did NOT work on the film. I didn’t step a foot in the country while it was being made, and the first time i saw the makers of the movie was at its screening. Do you just assume that whoever praises the movie must’ve worked on it or is related to the producer so you can dismiss the arguments as personal and emotional?? ma dal ghair te7kely i was paid to say this
    It is always great to engage in a constructive critical discussion about any work,you should try it sometime ..this is definitely not it.

    “shower them with empty praise while waving a Jordanian flag?”
    I take displays of Jordanian flag waving very personally, i’m very opinionated about when i would or wouldn’t wave it. I packed 2 large Jordanian flags with me to Park City, UT, mind you i had no connections to the festival, it’s hundreds of dollars out of my own pocket, but still i cared to go and support the promising 2 Jordanian productions, really when you support a production without seeing it you are only supporting the effort and the fact that Jordan made it to Sundance. At the end of this movie i was so moved i proudly waved the Jordanian flag, Jordanian or not i don’t think you could’ve escaped the love for Jordan that seeped through the scenes. Even with a a universal themed story i felt it represented Jordan.
    At the end of the other Jordanian movie Recycle, i was so moved i didn’t wave it, i greatly appreciated the wonderful effort but it didn’t speak to me at the same level the other movie did, i was directly, openly, constructively and respectfully critical of many aspects of it. Both movies were moving, a movie is always great when it gets the audience’s emotions, tears,laughter, anger…etc.
    My flag waving and praise is always conditional, even when premeditated. I don’t participate in empty praise or low blow bashing. Even if you insist that there is blind Jordanian support for this film, the Sundance audience is not Jordanian, and the movie won because it is a great movie.

    “I understand that it is only natural for you to stand up for your brother’s work EVEN IT WERE CRAP.” <— NOT a vague and general verdict ???
    “I neither think it is absolute crap nor would I issue such vague and general verdicts.”
    So let me get this straight you do think it’s crap, it’s just not ABSOLUTE crap, you are not making absolutely vague and general verdict? did you mistakingly drop the big IF from your sentence or are you flip flopping ?

    “illogical to present the thing as an international world-class production, and then ask for complete immunity from criticism because its a Jordanian movie after all.”
    Well it is an international world -class production but there is a difference between criticism and bashing.

  • HEY AMIN CONGRATULATION IT WAS A REALLY GR8 MOVIE I SAW IT 2 DAYS AGO WITH MY MOM AND I SAW SM FRNDZ THERE THEY ACTUALLY WENT TO C THE MOVIE 4 THE SECOND TIME CUZ THEY LIKED IT ALOT AND ALL OF US R SO PROUD OF U AND THEY WERE ACTUALLY ASKIN ME 4 UR NUMBER THEY WERE SO EXCITED THAT THEY WANTED TO GET HOLD OF U TO CONGRATULATE U SND I REALLY ENJOYED THE MOVIE GOOD LUCK CUZ

  • My husband and I saw Captain Abu Raed in Sedona, AZ at the film festival there. Not only did we love the movie, but we also were very impressed with the writer/director Amin Matalqa, who introduced the film with a proper mixture of modesty and pride, and had an excellent Q & A afterwards. It was the sort of movie that made us think about it afterwards for days, and even now we think of it and smile and hope. Sometimes I wonder if some people watch too many sick movies and get jaded: there is just so much junk out there that basically we have decided to not watch much of it at all. This movie was REAL. This movie made me think. This movie made me feel. Thank you for a great story, wonderful music, artistic photography, believable characters and so much more, Amin! Thank you for not only introducing us to Jordan, but also to humanity at its best and at its worst- the same choices we have no matter where we live in this world.

Your Two Piasters: