Theeb: Bedouin adventure in a time of war
London - A coming-of-age story of survival, Theeb, a new film by Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar explores the life of an innocent child with the responsibilities of an adult as he comes to terms with the fact that “the strong eat the weak”.
Theeb — Arabic for “wolf” — is a feisty Bedouin child living with his older brother in the Arabian desert during the Arab uprising against imperial Ottoman forces in World War I.
He is taught how to shoot an animal and struggles to draw water from a well, but these skills later enable him to survive alone.
The film opens with lyrics from a Jordanian song containing life lessons. The audience is introduced to the oral story-telling culture of Bedouins, an Arab group known as “desert dwellers” descending from nomads who historically occupied Arabian deserts. They live a simple life away from modern technology and make do with the minimum they have.
A British soldier approaches the Bedouins with a group of Arabs and Theeb is instantly curious about this blue-eyed, blond-haired man. The men leave for battle and Theeb insists on going with them. He is caught between the fighters and finds himself alone. His struggle begins.
“It was based on several stories mainly on the circumcision ceremony,” Abu Nowar told a question-and-answer session after an August 14th screening of the film in London. “Young boys around the age of 13 are considered men. Historically they were circumcised and go through a series of challenges usually involving wells. Epic fairytale-like stories that go on odysseys into manhood.”
“The making of the film would make an interesting documentary,” Abu Nowar said. “Because it would show my entire relationship from when I first met the tribe and them thinking I was crazy and stupid, to some of them now becoming professional actors starring in other films.”
When asked why the film was set during World War I, he said it reflected the Arab revolt. It started in Medina and Mecca and was about to move north to what now is Jordan. He wanted the film to mirror Theeb’s existential crisis with the revolt.
The British officer is based on two historical characters: Major- General Herbert Garland and Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe. Garland invented the Garland mine, which was used to damage railways.
The film is based on a quote about Newcombe who Arabs said was like fire: He burns friend and enemy alike.
A beautifully directed action adventure film, Theeb shows how people can survive with basic skills and knowledge.