Arabian adventure is a western-meets-Middle Eastern
THEEB (15, 100 mins)
Drama. Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh, Jack Fox
Director: Naji Abu Nowar
RATING: FOUR STARS
YOUNG Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat is very much the star of the show in Theeb. Directed by Jordanian film-maker Naji Abu Nowar, the film follows young Bedouin boy Theeb in a treacherous journey across the desert in Arabia in 1916.
After the death of their father, Theeb and his brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) find themselves having to guide a British officer (Jack Fox) as he searches for the rest of his regiment.
The action is set in the Ottoman province of Hijaz during the First World War. Cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler deserves praise for how beautifully shot the film is.
Some of the stunning narrow passageways the characters encounter would remind you of those in Danny Boyle’s 2011 film 127 Hours.
In a voiceover early on (presumably the voice of Theeb’s father), we hear that “If the wolves offer friendship, do not count on success. They will not stand beside you when you are facing death.”
As the name Theeb means `wolf’, it’s no surprise that our young protagonist – while wary of strangers – has a definite lupine streak himself when he needs it. Sure enough, one stranger (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh) ends up being the only man to guide Theeb out of the wilderness, although the elder might have thought twice about calling his young friend “a helpless rabbit”.
Theeb lives by the dictum 'The strong eat the weak' and the fraught and untrusting relationship between the unlikely duo is at the heart of this film. The 'young boy with a shady experienced traveller as his guide’ storyline also recalls John Maclean’s recent film Slow West (with Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender).
The film is essentially a captivating western (or maybe `Middle Eastern’ would be more accurate), with camels in place of horses.
Theeb is old beyond his years but has a healthy sense of humour, asking the Englishman to sing at one point and quizzing him with questions like “Are you a prince?” and “How many men have you killed?” – knowing well that the officer can’t understand him. The Englishman also possesses a mysterious wooden box that curious Theeb is dying to open, yet he is regularly rebuffed.
Both Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat as Theeb and Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh as the world-weary stranger are superb. This is a quietly engrossing story that marks director Naji Abu Nowar out as a name to watch.
:: Theeb opens at QFT Belfast today (QueensFilmTheatre.com).