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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Theeb

Though Theeb, a nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is set in Jordan in 1916, it still follows every rule that has been put down in screenwriting books. The writer and director, Naji Abu Nowar, is especially fond of foreshadowing. Practically every event that happens in this film is foreshadowed, meaning there is little surprise in the story for the savvy viewer. It doesn't mean, though, that the film is not involving.

Theeb is a boy who lives with his tribe of Bedouins. He is the third son of the recently deceased sheikh. The second brother, Hussein, teaches him things, like how to shoot (foreshadowing number one). Hussein tells him he will not get bullets until he knows how to aim.

Some visitors come to the camp. One is a British officer, who has a locket with a picture of his wife (that's not a good thing to have if you're a character in a war film). He and his guide are looking for a certain well, and it's clear that the officer is some sort of saboteur, as he has a box that he won't let Theeb touch. At that time, as anyone who has seen Lawrence of Arabia knows, England was aiding Arab tribes in their rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, which had occupied much of the Middle East.

Hussein is to guide them to the well, and Theeb impetuously tags along. The brothers are left in a showdown with bandits, and Theeb has to use his wits and the things taught to him by his elders to get out of the situation alive.

In many ways Theeb is a Hollywood Western transplanted to another place. It never ceases to fascinate me how the templates of Hollywood have managed to go everywhere. Instead of horses we have camels, but otherwise much of the plot is similar to any number of Westerns. And, of course, Westerns, like any other established genre, is full of foreshadowing. We even have the basic good-guys-wearing-white and bad-guys-wearing-black.

The cast, except for the officer, played by Jack Fox, are locals and amateurs. Theeb (which means "wolf") is played by a young man named Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat who, while being capable, is not revelatory.

I liked Theeb as an old-fashioned entertainment, with some genuinely suspenseful moments. It is the first Jordanian film ever nominated for an Oscar, but it's roots are definitely in the West, somewhere around Burbank.

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