Reviews - Theeb
Reviewed By Vaughan Ames
Theeb ('Wolf') is the youngest son of a dead Bedouin Sheik. His eldest brother is now running the show, Theeb is left to enjoy himself, having fun and learning how to survive from the third brother, Hussein. Into the camp, late at night, comes a stranger guiding an English soldier; what do they want?
We see all this, and the whole film, through the eyes of Theeb, which gives the director, Naji Abu Nowar, a clever way of teaching us about their lives, as though we are learning with Theeb: so, we cannot understand the conversation they have about what the Englishman wants, but, through Hussein, we are told he wants to be guided to a particular well in the desert (his first guide is not a local and does not know the way); we do not understand what is in the wooden box he guards so well from Theeb's inquisitiveness.
The following day, Hussein is chosen to guide the two outsiders, but Theeb sets off after them on his donkey. He catches them up at night when it is too late to take him back, so they are forced to take him with them.
I was expecting Theeb to be instrumental in winning a battle, or rescuing the English soldier (this was no 'Lawrence of Arabia'; the Englishman was never going to be the hero here). Instead, when they reach the well, the Arabs they were expecting to meet were found dead and the 4 of them are ambushed by a gang of bandits who want to steal their camels. Hussein and Theeb hide on the hill overnight and then Hussein too is killed, leaving only Theeb, who falls into the well and escapes with his life.
The next day he climbs out and then waits, hoping to be rescued. Who comes along but one of the bandits, injured by Hussein. Theeb helps him dig a bullet out of his leg, and is left with no option but to trust him as his only way out of there. Together, on the camel, they ride off towards the 'iron donkey' – the railway which has been laid across the desert, forcing many guides – like Theeb's rescuer – out of business: 'what takes a month on a camel, now takes a week'. When they finally get to a station, Theeb realises that the bandit is selling the Englishman's property (including the wooden box which we find out, is a detonator for explosives). Theeb's honour finally kicks in here; he shoots the bandit and explains to the soldiers there that 'he killed my brother'. They tell him to go home and the film ends with him setting off on the camel, first along the railway line, and then off into the desert.
So was there more to this than a boy's adventure? Well, some doubted it, though most loved it either way; I felt what was hiding just beneath the surface was a sort of history of the area, shown via Theeb's growing awareness. He was, at first, just a young child in the desert, lost and dependent on his family. The Englishman brought the war against the Ottoman Empire into his life, but the bandits crushed this out – their lack of solidarity with each other meaning they were happy to kill other Arabs rather than strive for a greater victory.
Finally, the railway indicated the growth of 'civilisation', which was too much for the Arab way of life to fight against. Theeb returns to the desert, but leaves us feeling it will not be long before this railway overtakes his tribe...
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