Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb is an old-fashioned coming-of-age adventure story set in the harsh deserts of Jordan.
A young man named Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) and his younger brother Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) — whose name, not coincidentally, means “wolf” — are Bedouin orphans in 1916, around the time that T.E. Lawrence was leading his war against the Ottoman Empire.
They’re isolated from that intrigue, at least until a British Army officer (Jack Fox) requests that Hussein escort him to a certain water well on the traditional pilgrimage route to Mecca, a request his people’s customs require him to grant. Theeb tags along, and their journey into the larger world blows up his personal world.
Nowar’s picture offers wide Lawrence of Arabia vistas and many other fascinating landscapes while keeping the focus on the title character as he learns of the existence of such mysterious things as train tracks, dynamite plungers, Englishmen, and even the occasional Turk, one of whom (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh) may not be the enemy he first seems. Novice actor Hwietat is terrific in the lead role, and even if we go in knowing the historical backstory, we still discover it all from his point of view — and never stop wondering how the wolf will survive.
Directed by Naji Abu Nowar
Opens November 6, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 3, 2015