Take a Drink: whenever you see a knife
Take a Drink: for English
Take a Drink: whenever Theeb gets curious
Take a Drink: for flashes of violence
Take a Drink: for wells
Do a Shot: for symbolic callbacks
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
World cinema is booming in ways that are hard to quantify, as entire industries rivaling the pure output of Hollywood, like Nigeria’s Nollywood, churn out film after film almost entirely under the radar of film festival aficionados and even the most niche of film blogs. One of the few ways these undersung industries get a bit of worldwide notice is the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film category, as every year sets a new record for submitting nations. This year will be no exception, and perhaps the biggest splash from a first time submitting nation is Jordan, with it’s well-received Theeb.
Uganda’s Who Killed Captain Alex will have to wait another year…
Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) is a young Bedouin boy who tags along uninvited when his older brother agrees to guide a British military officer out of a sense of hospitality. Violence finds them as they discover that the outside world is at war, with repercussions that will forever change the Middle East. Theeb, however, is more concerned with surviving the desert, and his untrustworthy companion (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh), a wounded member of the party that attacked his.
Director Naji Abu Nowar has certainly chosen a fascinating milieu, from the stark, gorgeous Jordanian desert beautifully shot by Wolfgang Thaler to a time of great disruption which he masterfully constructs just out of the frame of his stripped-down survival tale. Nowar also clearly has studied his Spaghetti Westerns, and layers the film with intriguing references to the tropes and themes of the genre.
On the acting front, Al-Hwietat is not asked to do much, but acquits himself well, and Al-Maraiyeh does a great job of garnering sympathy and making you question his status as a true villain.
Some reviews have made the perhaps inevitable comparison to Lawrence of Arabia, and it’s true that the first section of the film presents a very different view of a British “savior” of his ilk- namely the viewpoint of the Arab people he’s here to “save”. Jack Fox’s officer comes off as hot-headed and near-incomprehensible to these tribesmen who never even knew about the World War being waged, and have no interest in becoming involved in it.
Kudos to casting from the most British of acting dynasties. True fact: the Foxes are born with that mustache.
This is all quite strong, so it’s a bit of a disappointment when the film shifts gears more than halfway through to a pretty standard survival tale for a long stretch before trying to reconcile the two halves with an ending that is surprising mostly because it feels untrue to the characters… all in the name of a political message that could have been delivered significantly more subtly. Forget archetypal, think arche-typical.
The pacing of the film as a result is a bit wonky, lulling you with the scenery for long stretches while seemingly not moving the plot forward in any meaningful way.
Theeb isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but for fans of Westerns, this time period in history, or interesting new filmic experiences, it’s well worth the watch. It’s also yet another proof of the burgeoning film industries that are emerging in almost every corner of the globe.