As the official entry for the country of Jordan into the Oscar race for the Best Foreign category, writer and director Naji Abu Nowar brings his first full feature Theeb: a story set during World War I which is both an adventure and a tragic tale of survival. Told against a backdrop of stunning shots, we see everything through an intriguing young main character played terrifically by Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat.
The film follows two orphaned brothers, Hussein and Theeb, whose name translates to “Wolf.” A British soldier comes to their remote village asking for a guide across the desert in Hijaz and Hussein accepts but tells Theeb to stay behind. Being a determined and hard nosed child, the boy ignores this order and follows them shortly after they leave.
Eventually, Theeb catches up to the group and against the reservations of the englishman, they have come too far to send Theeb and his brother hiking back to the village. The man and Theeb continue their trip and find themselves in the middle of bandit territory. The events that follow push the film in a totally different direction than I expected and really pushes this young actor to the limit. It’s truly a remarkable performance.
The setting of this film adds a lot of interesting elements for me. It’s interesting to think that not far away, the events of Lawrence of Arabia are happening as the battle against the Ottoman empire rages on. To Theeb, none of this is even on his radar. He marvels at simple things that are so foreign to his contained world, like the pocket watch in the British soldiers belongings, as well as a dynamite plunger that, against the complaints of the soldier, he’s constantly drawn to.
The film could have easily been dragged down by having an actor that couldn’t fully shoulder the emotional responsibility this story entails but Al-Hwietat plays it very well. The movie is driven on the quiet contemplation of his character and it’s hard to believe that besides the British soldier, played by Jack Fox, the entire cast has never acted before. Al-Hwietat looks like he’s a seasoned vet ready for his next film. It’s pretty astounding.
It seems to be a very good race this year in the Best Foreign department and Theeb looks to be running in the top of that. Going into this movie I knew virtually nothing about it. One by line said it was a must see so that may have peaked my expectations for it but I was satisfied in the end. Nowar has a very searing command of the camera and I look forward to whatever project he has next. I give Theeb a four out of five.