Sunday, January 31, 2016

movie review: Theeb

(United Arab Emirates/Qatar/Jordan/UK, 2014)
directed by Naji Abu Nowar
written by Naji Abu Nowar and Bassel Ghandour

In 1916, there were Bedouin tribes living in the Ottoman Empire who were so unconnected to the outside world that they had no idea World War I raged nearby. Theeb tells the story of one such fictional tribe and the results of contact with World War I through a British officer who needs a Bedouin guide.

Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hweitat) is a young boy, son of a late sheikh, who lives a sheltered life with his older brothers in the desert of Hijaz, in what is now Saudi Arabia. He is young and innocent, but also clever and observant. So when a British officer in search of a Bedouin guide (Jack Fox) is brought to their camp by an interpreter, Theeb is entranced with the visitor. He watches him shave, asking in Arabic, "Are you a prince?" He attempts to find out what is in the mysterious wooden box that the officer protects so fiercely.

When his brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) agrees to act as guide, Theeb sets off after them, following at a distance and only revealing himself when it is too late for them to send him back. Thus the little boy gets his wish, to have an adventure--and maybe find out what is in the wooden box.

But the deserts of the Ottoman Empire are not a safe place in 1916. There are raiders and revolutionaries, and they are merciless. The journey to the officer's destination is tense and risky and soon everything goes sideways. At one point, Theeb is forced to rely on an unpleasant mercenary (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh). Can he trust this stranger?

Most of the actors in this movie are amateurs who had never acted on film before. They do an excellent job, particularly Jacir Eid Al-Hweitat. He has a mobile, appealing face, and he does a great job of portraying the resourceful, tenacious main character. The Stranger is similarly tenacious, but far less sympathetic. The desert provides a beautiful but forbidding setting, with vast stretches of sand and deep canyons of stone. One is never sure who will survive in that setting. It is worth watching the movie to find out.

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