Review: Theeb

This is a film that represented Jordan as an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language film at the most recent ceremony. It’s a film which concerns a young boy named Theeb going on a transformative journey through the desert. It’s a story that plays like a transplanted western cum coming of age film. However, it always keeps its narrative structure in the forefront and does not make these allusions to western film styles overly-dominant such that the film is hampered in any way.

The film tells a simple tale, which relatively devoid of dialogue and nary is a word uttered that is unnecessary. It’s not a film that is visual by happenstance but by design as it revels in lush cinematography of the sandy, craggy Arabian landscapes the characters travel through.

It is set during the War to End All Wars but avoids the convolution of that barroom brawl of entanglements that came with that conflict, and tells an uncomplicated narrative fairly far-removed from the main battlefields though the threat of the Ottoman Empire does lurk beyond the borders of the frame.

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Musically the indigenous scoring that works emotionally and in terms of placement is always far better than a homogenized score designed solely to create the illusion of Hollywood product. A stirring score and the use of vistas in fully-exploited widescreen frames make the comparison between this film and Laurence of Arabia understandable but it is a facile and overly-simplistic allusion. While the impetus for the journey is a British character, Edward’s (Jack Fox) need a guide, but it is indeed the boy, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat), whose name means wolf, who is the focus and whom goes on a journey wherein he fights not only for his survival not only for his identity as a Bedouin but for his human dignity and future.

What Naji Abu Nowar has constructed in Theeb takes two well-known constructs as a foundation yet still has the capacity to surprise and enrapture viewers from the world over. The universality is in the techniques employed while the story is one that could not possible move. It paints a portrait of a populous at a crossroads in time, which is independent of and complicated by the war in the world outside, when adding these turmoils and exterior antagonizations with fairly common to all difficulties brought to us in the dusk of childhood innocence and it creates a fully immersive, transportive experience.

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