Starring: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh
In the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, a young Bedouin Boy (Al-Hwietat) joins his older brother in escorting a British soldier across the desert, but what proves to be a perilous journey forces him to grow up extremely fast.
What qualifies a film to be described as epic? Well, there are admittedly many possible answers, none of which may be wrong, but Michael Bay’s seeming theory that it is solely based on running time is utter nonsense. Theeb is only 100 minutes long, but yet I would happily describe this film as epic, and I know that I would not be the first. This is a film that is epic in two ways; firstly Theeb is visually epic in terms of how the vast and barren landscape that the young protagonist lives in is visually depicted, but also it is epic in story, as despite the seemingly short running time, the protagonist does go on an epic personal narrative journey.
Director and co-writer Naji Abu Nowar not only delivers visuals that make Theeb feel visually immersive and on an epic scale to enhance the protagonist’s feeling of isolation, but the taut script allows for what is an epic personal journey to be depicted in an often subtle and understated, but a deeply effective and very personal way.
The 100 minute running time means that we waste no time with bloated exposition; we are simply presented with the facts of who is who in Theeb’s life, and that he has a very close relationship with older brother. In this day and age it is almost a rarity for a filmmaker to respect the intelligence of the viewer, and to find this in any film it is basically necessary to look abroad, and Nowar does just that. Nothing is ever over explained and in fact all dialogue is kept to a minimum, the fact we witness and ultimately share Theeb’s journey is all we need; these experiences need no explanation as they directly shape Theeb’s narrative arc.
It would be impossible to go into any further detail without breaching spoiler territory, but Nowar masterfully presents Theeb’s journey in a subtle but deeply powerful way. With every scene there is a genuine sense of danger and unpredictability all the way until the film’s unforgettable and deeply satisfying ending. The lack of dialogue and scenes of prolonged silence add to the tension and therefore our engagement, we know what each character is thinking, and any dialogue would ruin this. The ending itself is presented in the same subtle and understated way as the rest of the narrative, the purposefully patient methodology the protagonist shows is also very much in keeping with the intentionally measured pace of the narrative, and this is most certainly one of the reasons why it such an unforgettable ending.
Nowar’s camerawork is also deeply affective at telling a story that is both epic and personal. The camera often captures perfectly the grand scale of the isolated, and therefore deadly scenery that the narrative’s characters inhabit. Nowar skilfully combines these with prolonged intense close-ups of the characters; we share their feeling of isolation and desperation to simply be able to survive. These close-ups allow the actors to also deliver, particularly Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat as Theeb, who is a commanding screen presence despite his age. The simple expressions in his face depict with deeply effective subtlety the narrative journey he embarks on his and the dramatic changes in his ideologies. Many films have a coming-of-age narrative at their heart, but not many quite so skilfully presented, engaging and unforgettable as Theeb.
A unique coming-of-age tale that is both intimate and epic; Theeb is a stunning example of masterful and skilful filmmaking that produces one of the most engaging and unforgettable character journeys of 2015.