What starts as a very intimate look at early tribal life, quickly turns into a thrilling journey that makes the story of Theeb a riveting epic. Theeb is a recent Jordanian export that provides an interesting take on a coming of age story set in Saudi Arabia. Written and directed by Naji Abu Nowar, the film focuses on the titular character, a young Bedouin boy, played by Jacir Eid. Theeb follows his brother Hussein who must guide a British officer to his destination. Their journey takes them through rough desert terrains and steep mountains, all while coping with the constant threat of bandits. The film takes place during World War 1 where Hijaz is portrayed as an Ottoman territory. While the influence of war directly affects the plot it acts more as an interesting juxtaposition to the story. Impressive timing, solid performances and a powerful story all coalesce into a truly satisfying experience that keeps the viewers craving more.
The film flowed beautifully throughout. There were many tense moments keeping suspense high. These in turn were balanced out with lighter moments such as the many engaging campfire stories. The film slowed down to make use of its stunning visuals but knew when to jump into an action-packed gun fight. The only down side was the ending of the film that felt premature. It left the audience wanting more but might’ve left out too much. That’s not to say the films’ ending wasn’t satisfying. The film focused on Theebs’ development. From a character standpoint it ended perfectly.
The entire cast played their roles effectively. Eid was skillful as the lead if just a little reserved at times. The star performance comes from the character of the stranger, a bandit leader, played by Hassan Mutlag. His bad life experience and nihilistic outlook on life keeps viewers intrigued. As the only real antagonist he comes off more as tragic than evil. This leads to an interesting conflict as the viewer’s opinion of the stranger changes along with his relationship to Theeb.
It’s fascinating to see a story that feels this intimate set against the backdrop of a war torn Saudi Arabia. It is a subject matter that is rarely depicted. While it is a technical film it never shies away from its Bedouin influence. The campfire scenes seem to celebrate that fact exquisitely. They provide viewers some mirth and world building narrative. They also expand the scope of the otherwise simple storyline. Meanwhile the different struggles that Theeb goes through are skillfully portrayed. Viewers can’t help but empathize with his standpoint. Ultimately the writer takes the story into several unexpected twists that are both grounded in reality and fascinate endlessly.
Theeb is a rare experience. It leaves viewers satisfied with the journey and saddened that it ended so soon. It’s interesting to see a film set in this rarely depicted era of history. It is both jarring and delightful.
– Zaid Al-Kazemi