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.