CAPTAIN ABU RAED
Starring Nadim Sawalha, Rana Sultan
Directed by Amin Matalqa
Captain Abu Raed, Jordan’s first feature film in over 50 years, hints at a veritable unearthed treasure trove of movie-making talent and untold stories.
Raed (the magnificently expressive Nadim Sawalha) is an elderly janitor at the airport, only half-living out the remainder of his life in a shabby walk-up apartment. He comforts himself by talking to his dead wife (still indulging in their everyday rituals, like tea for two, though she’s been gone five years) and escaping into books for the global adventures he never experienced firsthand.
When Raed finds a captain’s hat in the trash at work, he wears it home, attracting the attention of a group of neighbourhood children who beg to hear about his travels as a pilot. Hoping to inspire them, and feeling engaged for the first time in years, Raed spins tall tales for a captivated audience, save for one reluctant hold-out, Murad (Hussein Al-Sous). A boy abused by his father at home, Murad is determined to unmask Raed as a lowly janitor. Raed also develops a friendship with Nour (Rana Sultan), a pilot being pressured to get married and settle down as she approaches her thirties.
Writer-director Amin Matalqa weaves the intertwining narratives capably. Captain is a film so full of heart, however, that it can’t help but spill over periodically into the saccharine and sentimental. (Particularly pervasive is the overly emotive, crescendo-filled score.)
Despite an occasional indulgence in the overwrought, Captain is beautifully and vividly full of life, with nuanced performances that prove haunting — never more so than in its final 30 minutes, when things take a dark, tense turn as Raed faces his own limitations and risks a violent confrontation. This cements an ending that’s both a foregone conclusion and a blow to the heart. ★★★—Andrea Warner