Wednesday, September 28, 2016
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.