Movies TheebAimless movie wandering sometimes pays dividends.  We happened into a streaming presentation of Theeb, by British-Jordanian director, Abu Nowar. Recipient of considerable attention in 2014 it is quite a coming-of-age story — not with girls, cars and teen-age rebellion, but something that likely corresponds to what boys did everywhere until the Industrial Revolution – moving from childhood to manhood through a series of trials involving courage, endurance and wits.

Theeb (meaning Wolf in Arabic) is a young Bedouin boy living with his tribe, the Howeitat, in southern Lebanon.  WW I is in progress. The Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks is underway.  Arab and Ally, especially the British, are making common cause against the Turks and Germans.  Into the nomad camp rides an Englishman and his Arab guide.  Blond as he is, and involved in blowing up railroad tracks as T.E. Lawrence was, the British officer is meant to indicate the time and place in history, though it turns out he is not the great man himself.

The two need experienced local guides to get them to little-known water and to a meeting with Arab rebels.  Theeb’s older brother Hussein is assigned by the chief to take them onward.  Forbidden to go, Theeb kicks his new donkey on, and when it balks, sets out barefoot across the sands to catch Hussein.   What develops then is somewhat of a Lebanese western.  Shot in beautiful, and harsh, desert settings, the four are assaulted by bandits.  After putting up a futile resistance, Theeb is left to die in a deep, natural well.  Managing to escape in a fine feat of wall-climbing he comes upon one of the bandits, severely wounded. The two come to an uneasy truce and eventually leave the isolated place and find a settled fort.

Though the film is tagged as a thriller it involves us, not by fear and rescue, surprise and resolution, but by immersion in Bedouin customs, the codes of honor, obedience, stoicism and in the end, revenge. Adventure and Drama yes; thriller not so much. And full immersion in the culture. The Englishman was the only professional actor.  All the rest were tribal men from southern Lebanon.  The director originally wanted to included women, but according to his reports, the local women would not participate.  Professional female actors could not speak the Bedouin dialect, and so were left out in the name of authenticity. Which one feels throughout.

 

It’s very interesting in these years of going to smash, to see story telling and movie making reclaimed from the colonizers and told from a sense of cultural and national belonging to time and place.  Worth the time, and for younger viewers as well.  Some tough scenes but nothing brutal or voyeuristic.

Available both at Amazon and Netflix; perhaps elsewhere.

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