Review: Theeb

Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat and Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen in “Theeb.”
Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat and Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen in “Theeb.”

Young Bedouin Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) sets out across the unforgiving wastelands of Ottoman Arabia alongside his brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen). Their mission is to escort British officer Edward (Jack Fox) on a secret assignment against the Ottomans.

Like the Bedouins themselves, Theeb watches from the border of a larger conflict he barely understands. It’s this choice of viewpoint that gives the film its powerful intimacy: told from Edward’s point of view, “Theeb” could have been a forgettable period drama. There’s no need for the viewer to understand the broader picture of World War I or the 1916 Arab Revolt, because Theeb himself does not understand. “Theeb” is a personal narrative, not an epic.

British-Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar captures the blank splendor of the desert with quiet, candid cinematography that never strays far from Theeb’s viewpoint. At times, Abu Nowar’s wordless storytelling recalls the “Dawn of Man” sequences in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” A dispassionate style never allows the viewer to assume that things will turn out well: perhaps Theeb really will vanish into the desert and never return.

“Theeb” is an intimate but sober film that proves that the elemental can be more powerful than the epic.