As 20007 and 2008 movie trailers kept rolling on the vast screen one viewer sat agitated in a seat in raw C16 in Grand Cinema hall number three. I was waiting for the main feature to start but why was I anxious? Well, I was about to watch the first Jordanian feature film in 50 years.
What would you do when faced with the following question "are you an airplane captain?" when you know you are no more than a janitor! You do as Abu Raed (Nadeem Sawalha) did in Amin Matalaqa's 2007 movie Captain Abu Raed. He said yes and started telling the children that asked him that question stories about his extensive travels and adventures around the world.
Captain Abu Raed stars Hussein Al-Souse, Udey Al-Qadise, Muhammad Qteishat, Ghandi Saber, Lina Al-Tal, Ali Maher, Nadim Mushahwar and Rana Sultan.
How did Abu Raed the janitor end up as the neighborhood's storyteller and renowned aerial captain? After coming across a discarded captain's cap in a trashcan Abu Raed decides to wear it on his way back home. One of the neighborhood children, Tareq (Qadise), spots him coming down from the airport bus and inquires if he is an airplane captain.
The next day, and as he is about to go to work, Abu Raed finds himself surrounded by a group of children hungry for tales of adventure and dreams.
Pursuing one's dreams is the main premise in Matalqa's endearing 110-minute movie, which is filled with surreal moments that are a balanced blend of comedy and tragedy. "Good afternoon Um Raed," Abu Raed addressing a framed photograph of his deceased wife as soon as he gets home.
Surrounded by antiques and shelves burdened with hundreds of books Abu Raed spends most of his time reading at the comfort of his house, which is surrounded by stone facades strewn across Amman's breathtaking landscapes that overlook its overcrowded streets and marketplaces.
Captain Abu Raed's scenes were shot in Amman, Salt and of course Queen Alia Airport, where Abu Raed befriends the mild mannered and gentle Nour (Sultan), a female airline captain, whose nagging parents (Maher and Al Tal) are trying to pressure her into a marriage of convenience.
"Shall we go out to the terrace," Abu Raed holding a tray laden with a teapot and two glasses asks Nour, who smiles at his hilarity.
A few minutes later and from the rooftop of his home Abu Raed proves to Nour that a person does not have to be a commercial airliner to fly above the clouds. Lying on his back and gazing at the never ending heavens Abu Raed also advises Nour, who is now doing the same, not to allow society or her parents to control her life.
Abu Raed also gets involved in the lives of Tareq (Qadise) and Murad (Al Souse), two troubled children from his neighborhood. Tareq's father is forcing him to skip school and sell chocolate wafers, while, Murad's father (Saber) is tormenting and abusing his wife, Murad and his brother Hilal (Qteishat).
Ghandi Saber's portrayal of the abusive Abu Murad is haunting. He is able to capture the menace of a misguided father, who can easily sow rage and sadness in his own children. Saber will most certainly dazzle Jordanian audiences in the years to come, whether he was performing in television, cinema or on stage.
Veteran Jordanian actor Nadeem Sawalha, who I had the pleasure of meeting in 2003 in Amman, when he was performing All I Want is a British Passport!, a one man stage performance inspired by the story of Mohammed Al Fayed, added his own personal warmth to the character of Abu Raed that won him a Best Actor Award at the Dubai International Film Festival.
Sawalha has been in dozen international cinematic productions like The Lion and The Wind (1975), Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), The Nativity Story (2006) and Diana: Last Days of a Princess (2007).
While Amin's well-rounded script introduces audiences to different story lines presented through smooth visual transitions provided by Laith Majali's edits, Reinhart 'Rayteam' Peschke's cinematography accompanied by Austin Wintory's subtle original musical score re-opens our eyes to the beauty of Amman's scenery.
Most if not all Jordanians will be able to recognize the Jordanian characters (dream possessed children, the nagging overprotective parents, the grumpy bus driver, the always complaining taxi driver and the hazy co-worker), Amman's cultural and historical motifs (Amman's asymmetrical architecture, Salt's ancient houses, the Citadel and the largest Jordanian Flag in the world) and cinematic references (the Francois Truffaut allusion) that Amin incorporated in his movie that transcends social differences and boundaries.
Captain Abu Raed, which won the Audience Award for the World Cinema for Drama in the recent Sundance Film Festival, is simply Matalqa's ode to Amman.
It is definitely worth the ticket price and every Jordanian should watch it at the movies for who wants to tell his children and grandchildren after a few years that he watched the first Jordanian feature in 50 years on DVD. Well
not this Jordanian!