Theeb Jordan-UAE-UK-Qatar First Feature Competition
Awesome! This film demonstrates the reason why Film Festivals are such a joy! Full theatre, super-enthusiastic audience, very little popcorn/cola swilling, and the Q&A.
This debut film from Writer-Director Naji Abu Nowar is wonderful, the actors in the film (who are not “actors” and had never been to a cinema before the opening at The Cannes Film Festival) are genuine Bedouin. This is their oral history on screen.
Set around the time of the Arab Revolt in a corner of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, a tribe of Bedouin are approached by a brother Bedouin and asked to take a British Officer across the desert by the old pilgrim route. The two strangers walk out of the darkness and partake of the traditional Bedouin hospitality. Two young brothers, sons of a deceased Bedouin Sheik are living there; we see Theeb and Hussein engaged in camel watering, play fighting, and all the significant tasks that keep nomadic tribes safe and surviving amid the hostile desert. The screen relationship between these two is palpable, there is a tenderness and a sense of closeness which is evident from the moment they appear together at the beginning of the film.
The elder brother is tasked with the journey, but Theeb follows first on a donkey and then on foot. Naturally, this complicates the situation but once united, the two are not to be separated, so the party journey on together. The nature of the Englishman’s purpose is not explicit, but he has with him various objects of interest to young Theeb, including a mysterious locked box to which Theeb, like any curious young thing, is drawn with an irresistible magnetic force. This object of absolute fascination tempts him again as they are gathered in a ravine, and the Englishman lashes out – the resulting quarrel has all the authenticity of a real fight, Hussein leaps to his brother’s defence, it is a moment of true emotion.
The pilgrim way is not in regular use for reasons which become explicit later on, and the way is not easy as there are bandits and deserters all with guns and a purpose, which may not be conducive to the Englishman’s ambition.
This film got a standing ovation, everyone was there: principal actors, Writer-Director, Producer, Dario Swade – the sound effects technician and Jerry Lane – the writer of the music which was completely brilliant, using genuine Bedouin traditional songs written up to form the sound track.
The film has all the depth and romantic beauty of Arabic poetry and calligraphy while at the same time describing a period of extreme violence. There are inevitable, but inaccurate, comparisons to be made with Lawrence of Arabia, the second time that this iconic film has been mentioned in relation to the modern film. But Theeb is not that film, it is not trying to be and in reality has more soul, more truth and more honesty. The Englishman is the fulcrum for the action of the story, but the story itself is a Bedouin story told by people whose grandparents, and great grandparents lived through it.
It is a really interesting companion to The Cut, I am really glad to have seen both. The directors in both films said that they had Westerns in mind, and though neither of them are Westerns at all, I can see exactly where they are coming from. Look out for them both, you will not be disappointed.