Dir: Naji Abu Nowar
I always try to make an effort to watch some of the nominated ‘foreign’ films each year as they often offer a look at a culture and viewpoint completely different from most mainstream Hollywood and British productions, and this film certainly does.
A young boy, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat), pursues his older brother on a journey to guide a British soldier to his rendezvous, a trek that becomes increasingly dangerous.
I liked the way the film opens with an Arabic proverb given in the way of fatherly advice, and accompanied by this beautiful Arabic script on screen for the opening credits. From the first moment this already gives this a different look and style from most films I’ve seen in a while. Themes of family come through strongly, as the film focuses on brothers from the first scene, and their closeness is convincing. Their culture is also highlighted, shown as being very hospitable and social, welcoming guests as everyone sits around the fire playing games and talking.
When things turn bad the change comes quickly, with shocking developments though there is a sense of foreboding for a while. Some sudden action disturbs the gentle pace and quiet that has been the general feeling to this point. That quiet returns to the film, though it’s broken at times with brief periods of dramatic activity. It’s absolutely dramatic, though not all the drama is through big action, more through the events shown being serious and life changing. The story is kept quite simple, there aren’t lots of overcomplicated extra points, nor does it focus on complex exchanges of dialogue. It’s an adventure, an eventful journey that progresses in ways that the young character couldn’t have foreseen but must adapt to handle.
The film also makes great use of surround sound, in one scene scattering voices surrounding them to intimidate, and making wise use of other eerie sounds that would scare someone alone in that environment. All of this is accompanied by a beautiful score, very much in keeping with the setting it’s of a middle eastern style that works very nicely and holds back at times so it’s not overpowering the scenes. Filmed in the same area as ‘The Martian‘, the desert landscapes look stunning and the locations are sparse yet beautifully detailed.
There’s a small cast and many of the roles are brief, with the focus going on the eponymous Theeb. Played by Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, this messy-haired young boy is very likeable thanks to some very fine acting, which is vital to the film working as his role is by far the clear lead, he’s in every scene.
So many of this year and last year’s ‘Best Film not in the English Language’ nominees have been about war. They feature different aspects of various conflicts, yet war is the topic of so very many, often highlighting how it has changed different countries and affected their culture. The beauty of watching international films is that it brings these cultures, issues and historical events to your attention in a powerful way, giving a voice to people and views that may not be represented in news reports. I enjoyed this very much as complete change from the rest of the awards contenders I’m working through, a coming of age story that is deceptively simple yet very powerful.
‘Theeb’ is nominated in the ‘Foreign Language’ categories of both the Oscars and BAFTAs as well as the ‘Outstanding Debut’ category of the BAFTAs.