3 July 2015 | theSachaHall
A hypnotic story beautifully captured from start to finish
As the First World War rapidly approaches Theeb's forgotten corner of the Ottoman Empire, a Bedouin tribe is slowly adjusting to the changes brought upon them following the death of their respected Sheikh. It's a subdued, yet tightly framed portrait of tribal life seen through the youthful eyes of the Sheikh's youngest and ignorantly unskillful son, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al- Hwietat).
Turning to his middle brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) for guidance and attention, Cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler paints an exquisitely beautiful image of Bedouin culture as Hussein patiently teaches Theeb the nuances of nomadic life: tracking, hunting, finding water and the duty of Dakheel. The images are heightened by the natural, intimate relationship between Hussein and Theeb, no doubt in part due to, their real-life familial relationship as cousins.
The quiet beauty conjured by Thaler's wide-angled shots of barren landscapes and director Naji Abu Nowar's limited palette of pale sandy hues, unhurried exposition and exotic musical score is hypnotic. The tranquility is palpable until Nowar rudely interrupts the façade with clever transition shots that unnerve the peace.
The first transition encourages audiences to proceed with caution as Theeb's eldest brother and new Sheikh Hmoud, hears unfamiliar sounds whispered in the darkness. It's a gorgeous shot watching Hmoud disappear into the night before returning like an apparition with British soldier Edward (Jack Fox) and his guide Marji (Marji Audeh) following behind him.
Requesting a guide to lead them through dangerous terrain roaming with Ottoman mercenaries and raiders to an ancient water well on the road to Mecca, Hmoud is forced into honoring Dakheel law and volunteer his Hussein to guide the strangers.
Fearful of losing his favourite brother, Theeb mischievously sets out to following Hussein before finding himself in an unforgiving predicament. Too young to track and without the necessary Bedouin survival skills, Theeb soon becomes lost and begins wandering aimlessly across the desert. Finding the safety of the group by chance, Hussein is forced to bring Theeb on his perilous journey when Edward refuses to delay his mission.
The second change in tone arrives violently as the group comes face to face with a band of murderous Bedouin raiders that leaves Theeb as the lone survivor. Forced into immediate adulthood, Theeb soon discovers the great importance of his name as he learns to survive through cunning and impossible feats.
Nowar's decision to use non-actors in his feature film debut was a ballsy move that proves to be spell-bindingly spot-on. Eid Al-Hwietat is outstanding as the precocious Theeb whilst Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh is all sorts of menacing as the ruthless Stranger. I readily admit that I was also mesmerised by Jerry Lane's score of pulsating rhythms and haunting chants so reminiscent of the Silk Road. It's also a fabulous juxtaposition to its east/west setting and its Lawrence of Arabia time period.
Nowar's inclusion of Mdallah Al-Manajah's ode about life is another inspiring selection. You can't help but be moved by its homage to Bedouin tradition of oral story telling and poetry and its words of wisdom from father to son. The meaningful words spoken in voice over drive the emotion in the establishing shot and set a powerful tone for the story that follows.
Theeb is truly a cinematic delight that you must keep your eye out for. It's exquisite, intriguing and downright thought provoking.