SLIFF 2015 Review – THEEB
1916. The Ottoman Empire. A vast, arid landscape. All part of one of the greatest cinema epics of all time (actually Steven Spielberg watches it before he begins a directing a feature). Of course we’re talking about David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. But not in this case. Same setting, same period, very different film. This new motion picture is told through the eyes of the title character, THEEB (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat). This boy of eight or nine is part of an isolated tribe of Bedouins. His father was the head of said tribe, but he and Theeb’s mother have died. His older, teenage brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) has taken on the parental role, teaching the lad who to find water, tend the goats, and fire a rifle (lots of raiders and rebels about). One night as the boys, along with the tribe elders, gather about the communal fire, the silence is broken by the arrival of two strangers: an English military officer (Jack Fox) and his guide. They wish to find the watering hole on the route to Mecca. Since tribal law requires them to fulfill the request of visitors, Hussein pledges his services (a task his father would have taken). Theeb pleads to come along, but his brother adamantly insists he stay. Of course the boy secretly follows the trio. When Theeb is spotted they are too far along to take him back, and so the trio becomes a quartet. But the journey is cut short by a band of ruthless outcasts and nomads, and the ill-prepared brothers engage in a deadly battle for their young lives.
Director Naji Abu Nowar captures the tranquil beauty of the desert along with its shocking unexpected dangers. The tribe leads a simple uncomplicated life until the foreigners plunge them into chaos. The script, co-written by Nowar along with Bassel Ghandour, keenly grasps the dynamic of the two brothers, alternating between teasing fun and warm affection. The sand and rocks provide a breathtaking backdrop to what becomes, by the film’s last act, an intimate two person drama. Subtle , nuanced performances are delivered by the cast including Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh in a crucial role. The story effortlessly segues from family road trip to suspenseful tale of survival. THEEB, the boy and the film, are quite unforgettable.
THEEB screens at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac on Tuesday, November 10 at 2 PM and Thursday, November 12 at 9:20 PM as part of the 24th Annual Whitaker St Louis International Film Festival. Purchase tickets here and here