Theeb isn’t a terribly memorable film.
Coming off of two successful screenings at last month’s St. Louis International Film Festival is Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb, Jordan’s submission this year to the Academy for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. Theeb is a dry and somewhat unusual film, in that, while a period piece, its contents remain relevant enough, and its scenario familiar enough, that you could easily forget that it’s set nearly 100 years ago.
To be more exact, it’s 1916 in the Ottoman Empire, against the backdrop of World War I. (When’s the last time you recall seeing a film set in WWI that isn’t centered in or on the residents of a more comfortably Western country?) Our lead, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat), is a young man who lives with his older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) in a Bedouin community. As one would expect, Hussein and Theeb aren’t left alone for long, and soon they have to hide, fight, get embroiled with a British Army officer (who needs them to lead him to a water well), and generally get involved in events they don’t entirely agree with or even always understand.
While Hussein is old enough to have a greater understanding of what needs to be done to survive and be safe while intermingling with various groups, the somewhat hotheaded Theeb doesn’t always get it, though he’s learning. It’s a bit of a trial by fire, as there are many different factions fighting over the trail to Mecca Hussein takes to the water well, and things as obvious as uniforms worn aren’t always as helpful as one might hope in keeping the good guys separate from the bad guys.
Theeb is not a boring or bad film, but it is paced slowly and is sometimes vague in why some characters are doing the things they’re doing at any given time. This requires a certain level of engagement from its audience in order to keep on top of things, which engagement is welcome, and the audience is rewarded in turn with a deeper knowledge of certain areas of world history. And yet, in the end Theeb isn’t a terribly memorable film—a worthwhile experience, sure, but you’ll remember what you learned from it much longer than you’ll remember its story or cinematic technique. | Pete Timmermann
Theeb shows at the Webster Film Series at 7:30 p.m. December 6-8. For more information, visit the Film Series’ website or call (314) 968-7487.