“Theeb”, Jordan’s entry for this year’s Foreign Language Film, is set in the desert of southern Jordan in 1916 during the Arab Revolt (that brought Lawrence of Arabia his fame).
The beautifully shot film feels like Like a British Boy’s Own Adventure story- bedouin style, or a short story by Honore de Balzac
Theeb (Jacir Eid Al- Hwietat)) is the youngest of three sons of the dead Sheik, a family of Pilgrim Guides who traditionally lead pilgrims across the desert to Mecca,
Lessons from their father appears in titles before the credit sequence, a legacy for the recently orphaned three brothers.Theeb means wolf, and all their father’s lessons refer to trusting wolfs, or not.
Theeb’s middle brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen ) teaches him how to shoot, “No bullets until you aim properly”, that brief lesson is his only preparation for the unexpected adventure he faces.
In real life the two leads are cousins.
Naji Abu Nowar’s crafted a loving testament to Bedouin culture as Hussein patiently teaches Theeb the tricks of nomadic life: tracking, hunting, finding water caring for the animals and the duty of Dakheel. which among other things even offers hospitality to enemies. Dakheel, like the knightly ideal of Chivalry, means protection of the weak, an Arab is supposed to defend his protegee with his life.
One night Hussein steps off into the darkness to investigate noises around their tiny camp. He reappaers with two strangers in tow, an imperious British soldier (Jack Fox) and his Arab escort Marji (Marji Audeh) Despite the soldier’s arrogance, Bedouin hospitality dictates they offer them shelter and food.
The soldier needs a guide to a well near the newly laid railway tracks, He’s eager to join the British reinforcements fighting the Ottomans’ control of the tracks. (Lawrence repeatedly lead his allied tribes against the Turkish Trains, as shown in David Lean’s masterful film. )
Marji knew the Shielk would help them. Hussein agrees to go and willful Theeb follows them, entranced by the foreigners fascinating Western kit including a mysterious locked box.
By the time Theeb finds them it’s not safe to send him back. The Soldier insists, Hussein refuses and Marji is loyal to the Sheik’s sons.
As they press on through the rifts in the rocks, they realize they’re being watched. Marji wants to turn back but the soldier presses on. Marji hopes its his associates, but they begin shooting and the soldier and Marji are killed. Hussein and Theeb flee into the mountains. Hussin is killed in the shootout, but before he dies he warns Theeb to wait near the well until someone comes.
Theeb falls into the well and survives the bigand’s bullets. Eventually he meets a mercenary, the wounded pilgrim Guide (Hassan Mutlag) who shot his brother. The two help each other survive until they can reach an Army Outpost, probably Ottoman.
Uk born Naji Abu Nowar’s impressive debut feature won the Orizzonti Award for Best Director in Venice’s Horizons section.
Nowae co wrote the script with Bassel Ghandour and further developed the dialogue with his bedouin non actors. The team made a decision to tell the story from young Theeb’s eyes, so the details of the conflict are left undeclared, just as they would be.
Wolfgang Thaler (Ulrich Seidl’s DP) shot in Wadi Arabeh and Wadi Rum
on Super 16 with an anamorphic lens. The warm immersive wide shots recall Lean’s setting for Lawrence of Arabia, and at first I thought Fox was Lawrence, and Theeb would end up as one of his guides, a sort of Don Quixote seen from Pancho Sanchez’s POV.
Naji Abu Nowar’s adventure is more straightforward and memorable, and does give us a look at the foreign WWl from the bottom up. Jerry Lane’s score feels Western but the quietly observed tale feels Bedouin,
The Bedouin Western was funded by SANAD (the funding arm of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival) and the Doha Film Institute. A MUST SEE
Seen Oct 10, Friends Of Film (Dick Clark Screening Room)