Captain Abu Raed, the first feature to come out of Jordan in about 50 years, is an endearing blend of myth and melodrama that forthrightly explores family abuse in its own society.
Although the music and drama are overcooked at times and the second half turns darker by the minute, it's hard to resist its underlying humanism. The movie was Jordan's Oscar submission in 2009 for best foreign language film.
Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha) is a lonely, widowed janitor at the airport in the capital Amman, whose chance discovery of an airline pilot's cap sets him on course for a new relationship with the kids in his neighborhood. They believe the old man is a pilot with a storied past. Virtually obliged to regale them with made-up stories, he becomes Captain Abu Raed.
Hollywood-aimed mythmaking turns into psychological melodrama when Raed befriends Murad (Hussein al-Sous), a sullen boy whose family suffers at the physically and emotionally abusive hands of his father (Ghandi Saber). Abu Raed realizes he faces personal risk if he wants to intervene. He reaches out to Nour (Rana Sultan), a female pilot he has befriended.
Jordanian-born filmmaker Amin Matalqa courageously addresses the patriarchal nature of his society. And his freshly observed characters give audiences positive depictions of Jordanians to savor. (There's only one exception: Abu Murad, the abusive father and husband, could have benefited from some three-dimensional texture.) Matalqa also shows that times are changing. The police are quick to act on charges of abuse. And though the 30-ish Nour weathers relentless pressure from her family to get married, she never veers from her professional course. As the central character, Sawalha, who suggests a Jordanian Charles Aznavour, makes an appealing, mature angel whose every facial gesture redounds with goodness.