Directed by Naji Abu Nowar
In the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, a young Bedouin boy experiences a greatly hastened coming of age as he embarks on a perilous desert journey to guide a British officer to his secret destination.
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★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
The simplicity of the story aligns itself with the enchanting setting for Jordan's first ever nomination for an Oscar. British born director Naji Abu Nowar's debut shows us a world through the eyes of a young boy, in what evolves into a combination between a coming of age story and western-style thriller.
It takes place during the First World War, at a time when the Ottoman Empire was heading into its final years, marking a significant change in the region. Theeb is a young Bedouin boy, whose tribe encounters an English soldier needing guidance to find his way back to camp. He quietly sneaks out to follow his brother Hussein, only to eventually find himself stranded someway from home, having to come to terms with some stark realities.
Nowar keeps the camera low and level with the boy, allowing us to take in his inquisitive nature and the dangers that are growing all around him. Bar the English soldier, no-one here is a trained actor, which is particularly impressive given how absorbed you become in Theeb's emotional world. The director must take a lot of credit for telling his story with such assurance, always keeping the pace beyond that of the camels onscreen.
Shot on location, the beauty of the Jordanian desert provides a constant sense of wonder all of its own. This is a film you will want to see on Blu-ray, where the natural shades of light and dark beautifully illuminate frame after frame. A well told story that plays on its strengths and in doing so becomes a timeless piece of cinema.
★★★½ review by Graham Williamson on Letterboxd
A familiar kind of adventure story, told in a conventional way. Does it automatically become more interesting if it's told from the perspective of a middle-Eastern kid, and the only white character is basically there to facilitate his hero's journey? I think it does add a nice twist, but it's the storytelling discipline that sees you through. Theeb is made in collaboration with the real-life Jordanian tribe it depicts, yet unlike the British collaborative films I've been watching - Requiem for a Village, Akenfield - it doesn't have any digressions to show you their lifestyle. It's a piece of straight-ahead storytelling, and it works.
★★★½ review by TajLV on Letterboxd
Film #3 of 30 in my March Around The World | 2017 Challenge (Jordan)
This feature debut from British-Jordanian writer-director Naji Abu Nowar was nominated in 2016 as Jordan's entry for the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. Shot on location in the Wadi Rum Desert in 2014, the film depicts the region during World War I, when the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers against the Allies, while the British supported Sharif Hussein bin Ali, Emir of Mecca and King of the Arabs, in launching the Great Arab Revolt to free Transjordan, Iraq and Arabia from Turkish rule.
The story opens with the young Bedouin boy Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) helping his older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) to water their camels from a well. That evening, they attend a gathering of tribesmen and we learn that the two are sons of the Howeitat's leader, Shiek Abu Hmoud, who passed away recently, leaving their eldest brother in charge.
When a traveler named Marji (Marji Audeh) arrives one evening, he asks the tribe for a guide to help him take a British officer called Edward (Jack Fox) to an old Roman well that's located on a pilgrims' trail near the Ottoman railway. Hussein is assigned to show them the way, but Theeb secretly follows than on his little mule and they are forced to take him along. Alas, only two days out, an ambush by bandits leaves everyone dead but Theeb, who escapes by hiding in a deep well.
From here, it becomes a tale of survival and coming of age. And when one of the bandits (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh), badly wounded, returns to the well, Theeb must form an uneasy alliance with him to navigate not only the barren terrain but also the threats of Arab insurgents and Ottoman soldiers. Look for a surprising twist at the end, too, which totally elevates the the story.
At the BAFTAs, this won Nowar the prize for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, along with a nomination for Best Film not in the English Language. In Venice, he won the Horizons Award for Best Director. As an interesting cultural note, there are no females in the film at all, not because they weren't scripted, but because "no women from the Bedouin communities (were) willing to act in a film."
★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
Whistle stop #15, Jordan, on:
A couple of weeks ago when our 30 Country train pulled into Japan, I mused on how the American Western had gone on a world tour itself through the decades with our watch, A Colt is My Passport, returning once again to Japan. Well, it appears it recently made a stop in Jordan, too.
Writer / Director Naji Abu Nowar’s Oscar nominated film tickled something in me when I was watching that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but this morning while having coffee, an image of the nameless stranger, the unconfirmed antagonist, moving towards our young titular protagonist reminded me of Eli Wallach’s Tuco advancing on Clint Eastwood’s Blondie in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
The second and third acts are virtually a two hander between the young Bedouin and the mysterious stranger responsible for the murder of his brother, and this is where the film shines. Both non-actors, conscripts from a real Bedouin communities in Jordan, is yet another example that if the right hand guides the process, that non-professionals can render the most believable performance, able to draw on their own authenticity.
Probably more than the base story, Theeb comments on how the livelihood of this Nomadic tribe, primarily as guides through the desert, was being made redundant by technology back in the post World War I era; a comment that fits as well today as the people and period it depicts.
When was the last time you visited a travel agent?
★★★★ review by Vincent Lao on Letterboxd
UK-based Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar gives an astounding film debut with this survival-adventure drama that centers on a young Bedouin boy who learns how to protect himself around suspecting enemies in a vast desert landscape. Theeb which means ‘wolf’ in Arabic rightfully describes the energy of our little heroine. By the end of the film, he has grown to kill someone and learn the ugly truth of reality and mistrust.
It’s a grueling coming-of-age story that recalls the storyline of Cary Fukunaga’s child soldier drama Beasts of No Nation that again centers on a young boy in dire circumstances. But then Theeb is rooted in an era of the past which is in a brink of shift. It also carries a specific sense of intimacy and cultural exchange focusing on the characters especially the young boy’s growth. Which then leads me to Jacir Eid’s beguiling central performance. Again this kid is a non-professional actor like Abraham Attah of Beasts, and delivers a stupendous amount of unforced emotion and innocence.
What I know now is that Theeb is part of the December shortlist of the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film, and it deserves to be there and maybe a spot for the final five. For a film debut, it’s very promising for its director Naji Abu Nowar. The fight for survival is universal and I think the film professes that in such disarming level.
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