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Film Highlight: Captain Abu Raed

Nadim Sawalha as Abu Raed

Nadim Sawalha as Abu Raed

Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha) is an elderly widower who works as a janitor at the international airport in Amman, Jordan. He's well read, philosophical, and given to moments of spontaneous whimsy, as when he finds the discarded hat of a jet pilot and wears it on the way home from work. A pleasant misunderstanding ensues: The impoverished kids in Abu Raed's neighborhood assume he's actually a pilot and treat him with such exaggerated respect that he decides to play along, entertaining himself and them with tales of his imagined travels. But one boy, Murad (Hussein Al-Sous), aggressively resists the storyteller's charms and grows hell-bent on exposing "Captain Abu Raed" as a fraud. From that power struggle, Jordanian-American writer-director Amin Matalqa derives a wealth of unpredictable tensions. Raed isn't so sold on his new mystique that he meanly deceives the kids; if anything, he's sympathetic to his young detractor (whom he can hear being beaten nightly). What is most deeply illuminated (especially by Sawalha's magnificent performance) is how the little myths we invent about ourselves give us the courage to truly become ourselves. Such a subtle yet global view of human struggle—the whole world viewed through the prism of a single poor neighborhood—is a mark of extraordinary promise from this remarkable new filmmaker.