There’s always been a deep-seated connection between Westerns and coming-of-age dramas. Perhaps it’s the wayward boys that populate them, or the dog-eat-dog world they so often inhabit (though in Theeb‘s case, it’s wolf-eat-wolf). Whatever the connection might be, it’s a match made in heaven. In Theeb, director Naji Abu Nowar has managed to blend the two genres into a story that feels wholly unique yet familiar enough to be comforting.
It is 1916, in the Ottoman province of Hijaz, and Theeb (which means “wolf”) is a young Bedouin boy – the youngest son of his tribe’s legendary Sheikh. His eldest brother has taken over after their father’s death, while middle brother Hussein has taken charge of Theeb. Viewers are treated to a brief slice of their life – fetching water, riding camels, learning to shoot – before things start to go wrong. The protagonist’s journey begins when a mysterious English soldier is brought to their tribe, asking for guidance to a remote well. Hussein agrees to guide him; Theeb, tired of being left out, hurries after them. Predictably, things don’t go well.
Gorgeous, engrossing and completely different from most of the other summer films on offer, Theeb manages to be both pensive and heart-pounding in equal measure. The arid, foreboding desert scenery and haunting, eerie score make for a perfect backdrop for the tale, while Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat plays Theeb with an impressive, quiet intensity. It’s no wonder the film landed Nowar Best Director at last year’s Venice Film Festival. The narrative is tight, and neither the quieter reflective scenes nor the action scenes take precedence over each other, and the cinematography is simply beautiful.
Also notable is how this well-worn tale manages to be so completely fresh, simply by virtue of taking Theeb’s perspective on things. Had this been an American or British tale, things would have been told very differently. As it stands, the lurking imperial forces, and loss of desert culture to modern amenities like railroads, are treated delicately. There’s no heavy-handed symbolism, no unnecessary explanations of anything Theeb doesn’t concern himself with; all we have is one boy’s journey. But more than that, the story feels real, and it’s that simplicity that makes Theeb a triumph.
Theeb is released nationwide on 14th August 2015.
Watch the trailer for Theeb here: