I’ve never went into a movie theatre with such conflicting expectations as I did today. It didn’t help that I had one tough day behind me at work.
February 6 was finally here. This was the day when the audience in Jordan was supposed to witness the birth of Jordanian cinema in the form of Captain Abu Raed. I made sure I was at the City Mall’s Grand Cinema early so as not to miss a second of the show.
So why the conflicted expectations?
On one end of the spectrum was all the buzz that has been building around Captain Abu Raed in the local press and blogs. The film won a Best Actor award (for Nadim Sawalha) at the Dubai Film Festival. Then there was the Sundance selection, the great reviews and Audience Award at the festival. Heightening my positive expectations were assurances by commenters on this blog that the movie is good. Not to mention my brief, yet informative, encounters with the ever energetic Laith Majali (who edited and co-produced the film) who I bumped into several times over the past year!
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the heavy weight of shattered expectations resulting from living for over 30 years in Jordan. These disappointments range from attending utterly laughable “heavy metal” concerts in the early 90’s, to watching hyped-up, but ultimately not-so-great Jordanian TV productions, to enduring horrible Jordanian amateur-filmmaker shorts a few years ago, to the deflation of enthusiasm caused by the ATV debacle (the private TV station that never launched).
Add to this mix: my distaste for cheering on stuff just because it is “made in Jordan”. I neither voted for Petra nor Diana Karazon!
Deep down inside, of course, I wanted Abu Raed to be good. As someone who works in the media field in Jordan, I would be delighted to be witness to the real birth of real cinema in the country.
So there I was. In front of the big screen, sitting with a group of friends. We had to endure the Rambo and other violent trailers. Then finally Captain Abu Raed started playing..
Scene after the scene, the world of Abu Raed unfolded, revealing what I can honestly describe as a monumental effort by a director and cast and crew that obviously poured their hearts into this production.
The film has been called “universal”, due its universal themes. And, while being applauded by critics, It has also been called “safe” and “conventional” by them.
Thus, the true surprise of Captain Abu Raed for me was that, seen through Jordanian eyes, this film is very Jordanian. It confronts Jordanians, for the first time on the silver screen, with some of our society’s biggest socio-economic realities, “without sugar coating” as fellow blogger Nasim Tarawneh noted in his review.
The gap between rich and poor, social conformity, domestic violence, child labor are realistically and honestly depicted in Captain Abu Raed.
After the film was done, I wished I could see it again through totally non-Jordanian eyes. The group of friends with me enthusiastically embraced the movie, but I, for one, could not easily immerse myself in a film which includes so many familiar location and people that I personally know. This is the first professionally produced feature film I see, where people I know are acting (like my long time friend and teacher, Ali Maher who plays the role of the rich father of Nour, the pilot. He does a great job in that role by the way!).
Social messages aside, this first Jordanian feature film shows us Amman (as well as Salt) in a pretty amazing manner. As one blog post I read about the film stated, it is a love letter to Amman. The visual contrasts that the city offers and its hilly beauty, chaotic downtown and its new landmarks are artfully captured making Captain Abu Raed a visual feast. One minor complaint here is that I felt it was trying a little too hard to “show” Amman.
But the real stars of the show are the children. These little stars were cast from local orphanages and from Amman’s refugee camps. And boy are their performances real. I can only commend Amin Matalqa and Co. on capturing these boys ‘gritty, macho language as one would hear it on the street. The sadness, loss of hope and anger of these children comes through on the screen, especially in eyes and face of Murad (Hussein Al-Sous), the abused kid who is hell-bent on exposing Abu Raed as a fraud.
We also see very good to excellent performances from the grown-up stars of Abu Raed. Of course there is the experienced Sawalha, but there were also convincing/funny/scary performances from Rana Sultan, Nadim Mushahwar (playing the hilariously clueless assistant janitor) and the people who play the roles of the RJ bus driver, the typical complaining bus driver, the father of Tareq and many others.
For those of you who are technically minded, you might want to know that Abu Raed is also pretty revolutionary and experimental when it comes to digital movie making. More about that here.
I don’t have a “final verdict” yet. I will see the film again, this time with my wife, who missed it tonight.
I cannot say that this film engaged me in a way that, say, Amelie Poulain did, probably because of my overtly Jordanian/critical stance!
But, yes, Captain Abu Raed can fly. And I hope it does. And I think it will, especially with non-Jordanian audiences. It is really a very encouraging first for Jordan. The honesty of its social messages was a big plus for me. The collaboration with global professionals is also paying off.
It is, ultimately, a labour of love. The whole story of this film’s development should be a huge morale booster and a an inspiration for a new generation of Jordanian filmmakers.
[A final word: for marketing purposes, Abu Raed needs a much better poster and a reworked trailer.]
Read these related posts on 360east:
- ‘Recyle’ and ‘Captain Abu Raed’: Jordanians at Sundance
- The French will demolish the airport (let’s hope they fix it before that!)
- More great reviews for Captain Abu Raed
- Captain Abu Raed: a trailer and two reviews..
- Newly celebrated Jordanian ‘Recycle’ and ‘Abu Raed’ filmmakers already preparing next projects
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