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Captain Abu Raed

Audience Award ~ Best Film in World Cinema category ~ Sundance Festival

From that power struggle, Jordanian-American writer-director Amin Matalqa derives a wealth of unpredictable tensions. Raed isn’t so sold on his new mystique that he meanly deceives the kids; if anything, he’s sympathetic to his young detractor. What is most deeply illuminated (especially by Sawalha’s magnificent performance) is how the little myths we invent about ourselves give us the courage to truly become ourselves. This is particularly well dramatized in a subplot about Raed’s one grown-up friend, a female jet pilot (Rana Sultan) who actually lives the dream he spins for his young listeners. Her travels inspire him, but she must struggle for respect as a woman of achievement in male-dominated Arab society. Such a subtle yet global view of human struggle – the whole world viewed through the prism of a single poor neighbourhood – is a mark of extraordinary promise from this remarkable new filmmaker.

From that power struggle, Jordanian-American writer-director Amin Matalqa derives a wealth of unpredictable tensions. Raed isn’t so sold on his new mystique that he meanly deceives the kids; if anything, he’s sympathetic to his young detractor. What is most deeply illuminated (especially by Sawalha’s magnificent performance) is how the little myths we invent about ourselves give us the courage to truly become ourselves. This is particularly well dramatized in a subplot about Raed’s one grown-up friend, a female jet pilot (Rana Sultan) who actually lives the dream he spins for his young listeners. Her travels inspire him, but she must struggle for respect as a woman of achievement in male-dominated Arab society. Such a subtle yet global view of human struggle – the whole world viewed through the prism of a single poor neighbourhood – is a mark of extraordinary promise from this remarkable new filmmaker.

Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha) is an elderly widower who works as a janitor at the international airport in Amman, Jordan. He’s well-read, philosophical, and given to moments of spontaneous whimsy, as when he finds the discarded hat of a jet pilot and wears it on the way home from work. A pleasant misunderstanding ensues – the impoverished kids in Abu Raed’s neighbourhood assume he’s actually a pilot and treat him with such exaggerated respect that he decides to play along, entertaining himself and them with Arabian Nights-style tales of his imagined travels. But one boy, Murad (Hussein Al-Sous), aggressively resists the storyteller’s charms and grows hell-bent on exposing ‘Captain Abu Raed’ as a fraud.

From that power struggle, Jordanian-American writer-director Amin Matalqa derives a wealth of unpredictable tensions. Raed isn’t so sold on his new mystique that he meanly deceives the kids; if anything, he’s sympathetic to his young detractor. What is most deeply illuminated (especially by Sawalha’s magnificent performance) is how the little myths we invent about ourselves give us the courage to truly become ourselves. This is particularly well dramatized in a subplot about Raed’s one grown-up friend, a female jet pilot (Rana Sultan) who actually lives the dream he spins for his young listeners. Her travels inspire him, but she must struggle for respect as a woman of achievement in male-dominated Arab society. Such a subtle yet global view of human struggle – the whole world viewed through the prism of a single poor neighbourhood – is a mark of extraordinary promise from this remarkable new filmmaker.

– F.X. Feeney, The Village Voice
 

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