DIR: Naji Abu Nowar • WRI: Naji Abu Nowar, Bassel Ghandour • PRO: Bassel Ghandour, Rupert Lloyd DOP: Wolfgang Thaler • ED: Rupert Lloyd • DES: Anna Lavelle • MUS: Jerry Lane • CAST: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh
Theeb is the debut feature from U.K. born writer-director Naji Abu Nowar, and tells the coming-of-age story of the eponymous hero. With stunning locations, a great musical score, and some sharp performances from the non-professional actors comprising the films cast, this is a true must-see adventure for the summer of 2015.
As our story begins in, we meet Theeb, a recently orphaned member of a Bedouin tribe of pilgrim guides, and his elder brother Hussein. Right from the get-go, it’s obvious that these two have a strong bond and a mutual compassion for each other, quite the achievement considering these two aren’t professional actors, which says a lot for Nowar’s directing abilities.
After giving us a look at basic tribal life, (gathering water from local wells etc.) the plot kicks in as a stuck-up British soldier and his Arab agent friend show up at the encampment looking for a guide to bring them to the train-tracks. Despite the fact that the tribe has nothing to do with the civil war in the Ottoman Empire taking place at the time, they’re sucked in because their own customs dictate they must guide anyone in need of guidance. Theeb’s elder brother Hussein agrees to guide them there, and Theeb decides to tag along despite the soldiers protests.
From there, the film feels a lot like a classic western, specifically the classic True Grit (1969), in that a snarky teenage protagonist must learn to adapt in order to survive in a harsh environment. The film’s stunningly beautiful locations are also reminiscent of many a John Ford classic, and the themes of survival and vengeance will certainly be familiar if you’re a fan of the classic Westerns. The musical score also feels like it could find a home in a Sergio Leone movie, albeit with more of an Arab touch, appropriate given the setting. At first, the plot seems simple enough, four guys wandering around the desert together, but like all good stories, it throws a few curveballs at you to keep you on your toes.
Much like Theeb and the other Nomads, by the half-way point of this picture, you have no idea what’s going to happen next, and this feeling of uncertainty is more than welcome in a boy-hero’s journey such as this. Like many coming-of-age stories, this is a story of a young boy being introduced to the harsh, violent stage of life that is adulthood, and in this case unwittingly taking part in an event that will bring down the Ottoman Empire. The danger the gang encounters along the road is palpable and immersive, thanks to the excellent sound design, and a minimalist musical score that allows you to focus on the action, unlike the average Hollywood blockbuster which smothers every fight scene with a bombastic musical score that more often than not distracts from the action.
One of the better films I’ve seen this year.