Time: 100 min
* * * * *
Director: Naji Abu Nawar
Reviewed by: Mohammad Reza Amirinia
The Theeb is the story of a young Bedouin boy who lives in the Arabian deserts of Hijaz with his tribes during the Ottoman Empire. The first feature film by British born Naji Abu Nawar brilliantly narrates a classic adventure story in the Arab world. Naji, the director and co-writer of the film skilfully develops the character of the boy. This heroic film focuses deeply on human factors and keeps the audience on their seats. When I watched the film, it captured my soul and I felt that I was possessed by the story, the scenery, the music and above all, the natural acting of the performers. I was impressed by the all-male cast of the film, especially the boy. I sensed the hardship of life in a vast desert, the smell of sand, the beauty of the Bedouin culture and the strength of the boy who grew up too fast, learning love, hate, trust and betrayal in a short period of time. I could identify with him and be part of the film.
The story takes place in Western Arabia in 1916 during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and fights between soldiers and the British on the one hand and revolutionaries and mercenaries on other hand. Two orphaned brothers, Hussain (Hussein Salameh) and Theeb (Jacir Eid) are brought up in a family of pilgrim guides. The appearance of a British soldier (Jack Fox, the only professional actor in this film) and his Arab escort Marji (Marji Audeh) changes their lives, when they asked to be guided to a well in the middle of desert.
Hussain who wishes to preserve the pride of his family and the rule of Bedouin hospitality agrees to guide them to the well. Theeb disobeys his brother’s order to stay behind and follows them. The director is silent about the intention of the soldier until he reveals that the British intend to destroy the train lines. There are exciting moments when the group is ambushed in the Canyon. Marji and the soldier are killed in a heavy fighting. Hussain and Theeb are sheltered, but Hussain is also killed and Theeb jumps in the well and remains alone.
The story enters a new phase when the wounded Arab (Hassan Mutlag) who killed Hussain returns draped over his camel. Theeb helps him to heal his wounds. They go through very tense moments, but need each other to survive.
Naji shot the film entirely in Wadi Rum in Jordan using Super 16, adding more cinematic warmth with many beautiful landscapes. The real warmth between the novice performers, Theeb and Hussain who are cousins in real life, added strength to the cinematic performance and captured the viewers’ attention. Theeb deserved to win the Orizzonti Award for Best Director in Venice and it was a real jewel in the London Film Festival.
I spoke to Naji about his film after the screening at the LFF. He told me about his inspiration, developing the story when he lived among Bedouin tribes for several months in order to understand their culture before making the film. Naji said, “I selected actors from among 200 native Bedouin people and trained eleven of them for 8 months.” Naji continues with joy, “We had many difficulties and had to make the film in several stages. We finished it in the hardship of winter and sand storms with a very low budget, but managed to make it a success.”
Despite its similarity, it is not another Lawrence of Arabia, but a different and a new kind of human story. Nevertheless, it is a breathtaking film, pleasing viewers and certainly not to be missed.