Film review: Theeb

The Arabic film is stunning and gripping with excellent direction

theebTheeb is a young Bedouin boy who lives a simple life in the Arabian Desert in 1916 until he decides to follow his older brother as he escorts a British soldier and his guide to a well. This starts a sequence of events which forces him to take his survival into his own hands in this stunning drama/coming of age/survival/road trip movie.

Although warned by his guide and Theeb’s older brother to turn back, the British soldier refuses to abandon his search for his regiment, and leads them into a canyon known as a trap laid by bandits. Unsurprisingly, there is a scuffle with the bandits leaving Theeb alone. Theeb eventually makes an uneasy alliance based on mutual need with one of the very same bandits, who has been shot in the leg.

The only professional actor in the film is Jack Fox, who plays the British solider, but the rest of the cast do a pitch-perfect job. Most impressive is Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, 15, as Theeb himself.

I cannot say enough about how gorgeous this film is. Every other shot looks like something you wouldn’t mind hanging on a wall. The desert is a dynamic and beautiful place, and the filmmaker knew it. Theeb was filmed in part in Wadi Rum, the Jordanian desert valley Lawrence of Arabia once trekked through.

The audio is as carefully-chosen as the visuals, as best demonstrated in a scene where chanting, taunting bandits use the echoes of a canyon to intimidate Theeb and his brother out of their hiding place.

The standout skill director Naji Abu Nowar displays in Theeb is an incredible touch for suspense. Music is used sparingly in the film, and there are times when the music stops and you know something dramatic is about to happen. Nowar does a great job of letting the long silences speak for themselves and doesn’t rely on gimmicks. Sometimes the suspense pays off and leads to some scares, but other times the tension just fizzles out. Not knowing which way each moment will play out makes them way more effective.

Because Theeb is a boy with little knowledge of the greater politics of the time, the history unfolding around him is given little explanation, and is the background and the stage that set the events of the story in action. As the bandit and Theeb attempt to reach a settlement, they ride past the slaughtered bodies of the British soldier’s regiment. They ride along the new railway, which has put Mecca guides out of business, and is the reason the bandit had to turn to a life of crime.

Everything is not resolved for Theeb in the end, but by the end you feel as though he has matured greatly and is probably going to be alright.

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