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Theeb PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
07 10 2015

ImageDirected by Najib Abu Nawar

Of all the action movies and thrillers on our screens this summer, I don't know one that has given us as much suspense and genuine fear as this modest and low-key offering, Jordan's submission for Best Foreign Film Oscar. Theeb is a young Bedouin boy in the years of World War One, living the traditional tribal life, learning hunting and survival in the desert with his beloved brother. One night a European officer arrives at their camp, asking to be guided through the desert. The Bedouins' traditional hospitality cannot deny him, even though his mission is obscure to them and his manner mysterious and a little imperious, and Hassan is despatched as his guide on what is bound to be a dangerous trip, through hostile desert and bandit country

Theeb (amazing newcomer Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat), a daredevil, fascinated by this exotic alien European (Jack Fox - is there no end to this Fox dynasty?) and longing to be with his brother, insinuates himself as third member of the little expedition. And the journey that follows is both unnerving, horrifying, and staggeringly beautiful. The little boy who wanted to but finally didn't dare draw the knife across the throat of a sheep for their guest's dinner, has to grow up very quickly.

It succeeds in spades on every level. Bandits attack and we fear for the boy and vividly feel his terror at the hostility he faces from man and nature, facing death from bullets, drowning, and then drought, an innocent in a complicated adult and cruel world. And what lifts the film above the conventional adventure/coming of age story is its broadening out of these themes into the tragedy of a culture and ancient and sustainable lifestyle being destroyed. The glamorous European alien with his own war and his own motives impinges into their lives just as the railway we see later, incongruous across the miles of sand, has taken away the livelihood of pilgrim guides and turned some of them to bandits, plundering where they once showed the traditional hospitality and kindness to outsiders.

Too few films find their way to our screens from this part of the world, of which our ignorance has never seemed more disastrous, whether because good ones are sparse or there's an ignorance of their worth among programmers, but after 2013's Wajda, from Saudi Arabia, it looks like there could well be a richness there ready to be discovered by enterprising European film festivals and distributors.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, September 2015

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