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Captain Abu Raed

A 2008 film about an Airport Janitor who discovers a Captain's hat in the trash and brings it home with him. To his dismay, the neighborhood children take notice, thus he begins to tell them fantastical stories of his travels that were never to be.

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A triumph of basic yet complex humanity

  • Dec 14, 2010
  • by
***1/2 out of ****

"Captain Abu Raed" is a rare treasure that one should go out of their way to salvage. Seldom can a film be as touching as this without throwing in some melodrama, and rarely can a story such as this be so simple yet so complex. "Captain Abu Raed" is indeed somewhat indecisive about what it wants to be, but that's precisely the beauty of it. This is a very humane film; touching, funny, and even at times dark. It explores compassion with beauty and precision, resulting in one of the more touching films I have experienced recently. This is not a perfect film, however. And I somewhat doubt that many will argue against that. However, I think that I am still with the popular opinion when I say that "Captain Abu Raed" is still a great film. Why should I deny such a film of its creative genes? Why should I denounce art at all? "Captain Abu Raed" is the work of a filmmaker who knows art well, and decides to explore it in the form of human emotion. The film makes use of a wonderful original score and a stunning performance from Nadim Sawalha to convey such emotions which I speak of, and they come out quite strong. By the end, I was very touched. Despite being imperfect, I feel that this is a special film. It is a better directorial debut than most great directors should hope for, and perhaps Amin Matalqa will humor us all again in the future with another great, understanding film. Matalqa has created something to be proud of, and the work paid off in essentially every way possible. I could very much recommend this film to just about anyone; and I mean anyone. Even the emotionless bastards like myself may find solace in this heartfelt humanistic drama, since it is indeed a less than sappy tale. To call is simple "melodrama" is an understatement; not even if one says "melodrama" in a positive way. Melodrama implies my worst enemy; sappiness. Despite what others thought, I never felt as if "Captain Abu Raed" was, as one would say, "sappy". It was too honest to be so. And after much recommendation from a fellow film lover, I am glad that I finally got my grubby little hands on the thing. I will remember it; for some of the best films in a year are the ones which are imperfect but admittedly beautiful. This is one of those films.

The film focuses on the lives of three important people; a boy named Murad; a woman named Nour, and the films titular character, a man named Abu Raed. Let's start with Abu Raed. The fellow is an Airport Janitor who dreams big every day of his life, although his own loneliness and lack of wealth prevents him from achieving his goals of international travel. Still, he is a man with a good heart. One day, Abu Raed discovers a Captain's hat in the garbage. He goes home that day wearing it, and attracts the attention of a village boy. While he at first rejects his identity as a captain when the boy asks, he soon gains popularity around the neighborhood as the children gaze at him in bewilderment. Raed decides to tell the children fictional, made-up stories of his so-called "travels" around the globe. The children are intoxicated in his stories, although the boy by the name of Murad seems to know his true identity. Murad is a cold soul; a boy suffering from frequent fear and abuse from his heavy-drinking father. For a while, his plans to foil Abu Raed continue to fail, and Raed proceeds to tell his tales. At home, he tells these stories. In the work day, he washes floors and takes the bus. One day on the bus, he meets yet another troubled soul; a woman named Nour. Nour has had a lot on her mind; her parents frequently persuade her to pursue romance as soon as possible. Nour feels as if she is not ready. Therefore, she talks to Abu Raed to escape from her grim home life. The plot chooses to shift from each of these three characters simultaneously, and it surprisingly does all this without feeling the slightest bit disjointed. While it starts out simple, "Captain Abu Raed" descends into a more complex film. It's not difficult to follow, but it's more complex than one would expect it to be. It does require thinking on behalf of the human emotion on display. I found the film to be less than a tearjerker, but that's more of a good thing if you ask me. It was short, sweet, and to the point; just how I wanted it to be. Somehow I feel as if it replicates the director's vision perfectly, and the vision was apparently a pretty damn good one. The story is well written and the characters are none the less endearing. What more could you ask for from a drama?

Nadim Sawalha gives one of the best performances of the past decade. Never have I seen a film with such a dedicated performer. It makes me wonder how Sawalha is not well known at this point. His performance is-to but it simply-flawless. Sawalha soars because of his character, primarily. His performance helps a lot to elevate such human emotion that he attempts (and succeeds) to convey, although in the end of the day it is the character that counts. Ran Sultan, who portrays Nour, is also very good. Perhaps she cannot rival the powerful and memorable performance of Sawalha, but she fits in well with the cast. I also applaud the efforts of the younger actors in the supporting cast. Like most young actors in foreign productions, they deserve more attention than they have been getting. For once, can't we appreciate young talent such as this?

"Captain Abu Raed" is set in the beautiful Roman ruins, nearby Amman. Most of the film was shot there, although the rest of it was shot in the city of Salt. The filmmaker does not simply film a movie; he captures it. This is something that all talented filmmakers can do; although among those there are only a select few of potential greatness. "Captain Abu Raed" is director Amin Matalqa's first feature, and hopefully there will be more to come. Who knows? Maybe Matalqa will go on to be a bigger name in film. Perhaps he will never be the biggest man, although one of the more well-known Jordanian filmmakers of our time for sure. "Captain Abu Raed" is backed up by excellent cinematography and a moving original score. This truly is, in the best sense of the word, a beautiful film. How could it not be? The film itself I found to be very tender, and thinking about the emotions at play made it even better. Few films on the market today can do such a thing. Emotions are simple most of the time, while these ones seem more layered and complex than usual. There's definitely something artistic about both the style and conception of this film, and it ends up being a beautifully executed piece of work. As I said earlier, I could recommend it to just about anyone. It's dark without being depressing; quite in fact, most of the time it is heart-warming and upbeat. I like that. No, I ADMIRED it. This is a rare gem in Jordanian filmmaking, and possibly one of the only films from the region which we shall ever hear of. It takes a popular and very good film to be heard, and that explains plain and simple why there are those who have taken the time to get their hands on such a film as this.

I will not say that I absolutely loved this film, because I did not. But it is still one of the finer gems of 2008; a nice break from the surprisingly successful number of Blockbuster hits coming out in such a year. There was "Iron Man"; there was "The Dark Knight". Both were great and even amazing movies. "Captain Abu Raed" may not be as well-known as either, but it deserves an equal amount of recognition for what it succeeds in doing. This film reminds me that I need to catch up on my foreign film watching. Cinema of the world is important, and recently I have forgotten that. It was even once that I was telling people to see more foreign films. Now I am telling myself that. Thank you "Captain Abu Raed". Thank you. Alas, this film made me feel wonderful. It is a humanistic film which brings out the best (or worst) in the emotions of man, and explores them with extreme detail. To say that "Captain Abu Raed" is legendary may be an overstatement, although saying it is forgettable is an even larger understatement. In short, I sort of loved it. Not "loved, loved it", but I loved it fair enough. Reader, I recommend that you see it. Despite the fact that I may be one of the few people you know who actually reviews it or tells you of it, it's not worth missing. It's better to dig through the thick muck and come back with a treasure than return with a mediocre trifle, right? Yes, I'm right. And "Captain Abu Raed" is a treasure. I am very glad that I took it for a satisfactory first flight.

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January 09, 2011
I love less than popular films! They are gems for sure!
More Captain Abu Raed reviews
Quick Tip by . December 14, 2010
I am surprised that this film hasn't got the recognition that it deserves. It's definitely heart-felt and touching. I recommend it.
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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