Monday 17 August 2015


(Naji Abu Nowar, 2014)

Theeb is the name of our protagonist here. A young boy, living with a Bedouin tribe somewhere in the Arabian desert, we first encounter him playing with his older brother, learning how to shoot a rifle, and watching the men as they chat and play games. Then an English soldier arrives at their camp in the dead of night, accompanied by a native guide, and we realise that it is some time during WW1 and the tribe exists somewhere on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire.
The Englishman needs a guide to a well across the desert, and Theeb's brother Hussein is chosen. Theeb, intrigued by this blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner (played by Jack Fox with more than a touch of T.E. Lawrence to him) and a bit bored with life, follows even though the trail is known for its raiders.
When some raiders are encountered in a brutal sequence of violence and suspense, Theeb learns much about the world, survival and himself.
Theeb feels like it could have been made at any point over the last four decades - it is a classic, timeless adventure story with old-fashioned virtues. The story-telling is clear and attentive to texture and sensual details; what it feels like to drink at a well after hours trekking across the desert, how it feels to know there is someone approaching in the darkness beyond a campfire, what rifle fire pinging off rock over your head is like. Because it is told from the perspective of a young boy, the plot moves in spurts - Theeb never understands why events occur or what they mean. The Englishman's reason for being there only becomes evident in the last scene, and the boy clings to the narrative with grim determination as events envelop him. Nowar makes sure that the story is always involving, and if the gripping material only kicks in during certain passages, his way with atmosphere and landscape are impressive for a debutant director.
Indeed, he is able to combine such a simple, exciting story with rich thematic ground - the film is really about the death of tradition at the hands of modernity, as one of its final shots makes clear, with Theeb riding a camel as a steam-train cuts across the desert ahead of him.

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