Captain Abu Raed
Old Man Take a Look at My Life
Starring: Nadim Sawalha
By Robert Patrick
The incessant slosh of a wet mop painting an airport floor. The rickety wheels of a maintenance cart dribbling over the tile. The wheezing expulsion of cleaning fluid from the nozzle of a dented bottle. These sights and sounds, so unchanging and regulatory, encapsulate janitor Abu Raed’s life. The man, with patches of gray hair sprouting from his head like tumbling clouds of smoke, works his days, without mercurial behavior, only to get by. The old badger, when home from work, dreams only of his deceased wife. When he isn’t thinking of his lost beloved, he plows his hands into his vast collection of books. Abu Raed is a normal man, living a life that one would not find precarious.
One day, when cleaning up the airport, Raed finds a captain’s hat lodged in the belly of a trashcan. Raed wears it, when he clocks out of work, and begins his methodic trek home – this is where the movie picks up speed. The old man is spotted by a young boy, who lives in Raed’s neighborhood, and immediately receives unwanted attention. “Are you a captain?” the boy asks, craning his neck in curiosity. Raed answers no, to the boys dismay, and stoically closes the door on the child. After several encounters with the naïve children, Raed assumes the fantastical role of a captain, telling stories of adventurous mischief to cheer up the gaggle of kids who tug at his collar everyday.
Later, the feel good antics of our protagonist are soured by Murad, an older boy who vehemently disapproves of Raed, as he attempts to unveil the truth about the airport janitor. At this specific juncture in the film, sub plots, appearing with the uncouth welcome of stray weeds, zip up through the body of the story. Suddenly there is spousal abuse being introduced midway through the movie; a vignette about a woman’s father who wags his finger at his daughter for not marrying; and a violent ending that baseball slugger Albert Pujols would be proud of.
That’s it – that’s pretty much the plot. Raed, who is played by Nadim Sawalha, reminds me of a poor man’s Ernest Hemmingway during his scenes of good natured exposition; the old badger wears his peppered beard, his belly folding over his belt, and tells of stories involving great fish and wind-whipped sails. Other times he reminds me of the “most interesting man in the world” guy from the Dos Equis commercials. Maybe, from all of my liberal comparisons, I don’t feel as if Sawalha gave Raed the character development he needed to look and behave like his own autonomous person.
Captain Abu Raed was the first Jordanian movie that was widely distributed outside of its native country. Unfotunately I think this filmic event should’ve been saved for a better, more deserving opus. Director Amin Matalga’s screenplay feels wobbly, unsteady, and emotionally forced. Characters appear, at the most opportune times possible, to hand items to Raed. The old man even happens to serendipitously bounce into a French guy, who is vacationing in Jordan yet still happens to have postcards of Paris and arm-length replicas of the Eifel Tower on him, just in time for Raed to accept these unlikely gifts and show them to the neighborhood children. I only expect that every time I run into a tourist from another country that they give me a snow globe of their native land so that I can make up stories about having had been there; this movie was truly enlightening from a multicultural prospective.
Captain Abu Raed, for all of its gimmicky dialogue and ridiculous character build-ups, has its heart in the right place. I only wish that the film was smart enough to disregard its paint by numbers direction, and try something more organic and believable.