Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"This is a well structured and affecting piece of film-making."

Theeb means 'Wolf', but not just the loping lupine of legend and lore, also the pack, the hunt, the cub. There are dictums, sayings, folk wisdoms, and these are the rules that are important. There is a world out there, but only as wide as one can see, and Theeb's perspective is limited. Not clumsily - delicately. In tone and setting and era there are obvious comparisons to Lean's Lawrence. In the initial burst of hysteria around the Apple Watch someone suggested watching that epic on a screen of a couple inches square, but that's a different change of scale.

Theeb is all in the little things, when the cracked desert gives way to the tight canyons and valleys, where the modern world of 1916 abuts Beduoin mores and motives. A man has come who needs a guide against the desert, a man with a mysterious box and a secret mission. As Theeb, Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat is precocious. Possessed of that delicate fierceness, prickly certitude, knife-edge hesitance that characterises a rush into adulthood expressed as a truncated adolescence. His father was the Sheikh, but his father is dead. His brother is the sheikh now, and the family's responsibilities are complex. Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) will guide the Englishman across the desert, but Theeb follows.

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What unfolds is a well-paced Middle Eastern Western, an oater driven by the usual clash of codes of honour and sands soaked in sunset, tension created by betrayals not just of humans but of ways of life.

A debut feature for Naji Abu Nowar, this is a well structured and affecting piece of film-making. Small moments in larger histories, a knot of threads in a wider tapestry. The train means something, the well means something, there is meaning in abundance but often that which is ominous is over the horizon. Audiences would benefit from a bit more context, perhaps, but there's enough information to ground this in a time and a place.

Aided by Wolfgang Thaler's excellent eye, a script co-written with Bassel Ghandour and apparently partially improvised, Nowar has crafted a film that, like its protagonist, may be small, may be constrained, but is forceful, driven, worth watching.

Reviewed on: 12 Aug 2015
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A Bedouin boy experiences a desert adventure when he joins a British officer searching for a well on the eve of the 1916 Arab Revolt.
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Director: Naji Abu Nowar

Writer: Naji Abu Nowar, Bassel Ghandour

Starring: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh, Jack Fox

Year: 2014

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, UK

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