A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Theeb (Naji Abu Nowar, 2014)

Theeb (the name, we learn, means "wolf") is a young Bedouin boy whose older brother, Hussein, is called on to help an Englishman find his way to a well in the desert. The Englishman, a soldier, carries with him a wooden box that arouses Theeb's curiosity, though the Englishman angrily shoos him away every time Theeb tries to inspect it. It is 1916, and we recognize the box as a detonator and, especially if we've seen Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962), realize that the soldier is delivering it to the Arabs rebelling against the Ottoman Empire. When Hussein leaves with the soldier, Theeb sneaks away to follow them; when he catches up with them, the soldier insists that they don't have time to return him to the tribe's camp but must continue to the well, where he is scheduled to meet up with his contacts. At this point, the conventional desert adventure movie might play off the relationship between the angry soldier and the curious boy, perhaps developing a friendship between them as they carry out the soldier's mission. But this isn't a conventional film. It's British-Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar's first feature film, and even though he describes it as a "Bedouin Western," it's grounded in actuality more than in Hollywood genre films. All of the actors except Jack Fox, who plays the soldier, are non-professionals.  Abu Nowar and co-screenwriter Bassel Ghandour spent a year living with and researching the Bedouins in Jordan, and choosing their cast, including the pre-adolescent Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, who plays Theeb in an engagingly natural performance. The film takes place at the same time and in the same place as Lawrence of Arabia, and the cinematography of Wolfgang Thaler shows the influence of Freddie Young's work on that film. But Theeb stands Lean's celebrated film on its head by making the soldier a dispensable secondary character. The adventure is Theeb's, as he finds himself first alone in the desert and then with a companion he has good reason to hate. The result is a smart, unsentimental look at a place and way of life filled with hardships and perils. It received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for best foreign language film.