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 neighborhood assume he’s actually a pilot and treat him with such exaggerated respect that he decides to play along, Arabian Nights–style, entertaining himself and them with 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 (whom he can hear being beaten nightly). What is most deeply illuminated (especially by Sawalha’s magnificent performance) is the courage that the little myths we invent about ourselves give us 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 neighborhood—is a mark of extraordinary promise from this remarkable new filmmaker.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 11, 2009