Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Hero
After watching Captain Abu Raed, I have a new favorite movie hero. Sorry, Spider-Man and Zorro. Youíve been dethroned by an elderly widowed janitor at Jordanís Amman International Airport. Abu Raed may not look very heroic, but he shows tremendous courage while trying to make a difference in the lives of children who become charmed by the adventure stories he spins for them.
Played with humor and compassion by Nadim Sawalha (Syriana), Abu Raed is not perfect. In fact, heís not really a ďCaptain.Ē But the children in his neighborhood think heís an airline pilot because they see him wearing a pilotís cap he found in the airport trash. At first, Abu Raed discourages the youngsters concerning this belief, but he soon goes along with them, becoming a sort of Pied Piper who entertains the group with stories about imaginary voyages to other lands. When Abu Raedís pretense is discovered, he could have given up on these children, but he continues to care about them -- even to the point of endangering his own safety.
Amin Matalqa -- who wrote, directed and produced Captain Abu Raed -- reports that Charlie Chaplinís City of Lights is one of his favorite films. ďThe character of the Tramp represents the sweet man on the street,Ē he points out. By skillfully blending humor, pathos, drama and suspense, Matalqa has created a mesmerizing film reminiscent of Chaplinís classic work.
Why did Matalqa set the story in an airport? He comes from a family of pilots, and heís always been interested in the difference in social classes, so an airport made sense to him, for itís where the poor and the rich meet. In this case, itís the perfect setting for an impromptu meeting between Abu Raed and a real airline ďcaptain,Ē portrayed with compelling sensitivity by lovely Rana Sultan, who becomes his friend and humanitarian accomplice. However, much of Captain Abu Raed also plays out in the streets where Abu Raed and the working class children he befriends live. Their humble neighborhood contrasts dramatically with the lavish house of Nour (Sultanís character).
Sawalha and Sultan deserve praise for their terrific performances here, but so do all the child actors. I absolutely loved the delightful way they react to Abu Readís storytelling sessions! Hussein Al Sous stands out as a youngster who causes Abu Raed the most trouble yet needs his help the most. Itís heartbreaking to watch the pain in this young boyís eyes during most of his scenes.
Captain Abu Raed, the first Jordanian feature film exported for international cinema, boasts outstanding production values as well as solid acting and an admirable story with universal appeal. Reinhart Peschke's dramatic cinematography draws viewers into Abu Raedís world, and Austin Wintoryís splendid background music enhances whatís happening on screen without interfering with the movieís flow.
Itís hard to believe Captain Abu Raed, Jordanís entry for the 2009 Oscar race, is Matalqaís first feature movie. Film festival audiences have already recognized its high quality. Among the numerous honors bestowed on this superb film are the 2008 Sundance Audience Award for Dramatic World Cinema and the Grand Prize for Dramatic Feature at the 2008 Heartland Film Festival.
I canít help feeling that Captain Abu Raed marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Amin Matalqa and discerning moviegoers everywhere.
(Released by Paper and Pen Films/NeoClassics Films; not rated by MPAA. Click here to visit the movie's official site.)
For more information about Captain Abu Raed, please go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.
Listen to filmmaker Amin Matalqa's interview on Movie Addict Headquarters by clicking here.