There seems to be two types of people. The first types are people who are content with their present situation. The second types are people who aren't, who want more or at least some change.
People who want change can't always achieve it, so they have one of several reactions. Either they become angry, sad, or complacent. There's a fine line between acceptance and tolerance, which some people experience as well.
The fact remains that despite the many good things about the Kingdom of Jordan, that Middle Eastern country on the border of Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, it's still very much a troubled one. Painfully, most of it is due to the Arab-Israeli wars. Losing the West Bank and the resulting Palestinian refugee situation devastated Jordan's economy.
In this film, all of that is subtext, though, not even referenced. Its effects, its echoes, become something one, more or less, feels, but never really knows or understands. Poverty is poverty. The cause or the international conflicts are less important. What is important is the way people deal with their situations.
The titular character is one of those first types. He's a man who's content. He's found peace and acceptance. Perhaps it's because Abu Raed is an old man. Perhaps, it's because he's lived a long life and he's seen a lot of things.
One might think, at first glance, that Abu Raed is just a lonely widower. He's a man who talks to a painting of his dead wife. He spends his afternoons and nights alone, sitting in his living room and reading books. Yet, Abu Raed is not blind or ignorant to his surroundings. Just because he's not complaining doesn't mean he doesn't care.
A child confuses Abu Raed for an airline pilot captain. Both live in the same impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Amman, the capital city of Jordan. At a later point, another child, a teenage boy named Murad, exclaims, "People like us don't become pilots." This is a sentiment that Abu Raed may not believe but could certainly understand. "People like us" may be a thinly veiled reference to Palestinian refugees or poor Jordanian people who can't get a leg up.
Regardless, Abu Raed understands the inherent hopelessness, something children should never have, be they Arab or American. Of course, we all know that poverty and hopelessness make the perfect breeding ground for terrorism. Abu Raed, therefore, doesn't dispute the children's assumption that he's an airline pilot captain. He pretends to be a captain in front of these children because he wants to give them hope. He wants them to feel like they could have more, or be more, that their impoverished lives could change for the better.
It's interesting because like Abu Raed the children are also first types. What Abu Raed attempts is to turn them into second types, which is what parents in poor areas want for their offspring. Abu Raed is not their father but he definitely becomes a father figure.
The relationship that develops between Abu Raed and the children, specifically Murad, the eldest, is what's most endearing. Abu Raed's caring, nurturing, and protective-nature for them is potent. He becomes more than an old man telling them stories but an inspirational and saving force in their lives.
Director Amin Matalqa provides us with some interesting shots of Amman's cityscape. You soon realize that it's like the San Francisco of Jordan, probably not in politics but definitely in structure. The entire city is built on hills, mountainous, desert-like hills. Matalqa helps us, however, to appreciate Amman's architecture as well.
Captain Abu Raed was chosen as Jordan's official submission for the 81st Academy Awards, the very first time for that nation. Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invites every country in the world to submit its best film for Oscar consideration in the category of Best Foreign-language Film.
In October, the Academy publishes the total list of all the films that have been submitted and their submitting countries. This Arab film is one of 67 titles, and there is some stiff competition. This film is a very good representative of its country, and I'd recommend seeing it, but I doubt it will get the Oscar nomination.
Four Stars out of Five
In Arabic with English Subtitles
Unrated but Suitable for All Audiences
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.