Theeb, the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee from Jordan, is a simple story well told. Though it’s set in the Middle East during World War I, the film most closely resembles a western and tells the story of a young boy and his brother, who run headlong into the conflict between nations and tribes.
Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat plays the title character, a recent orphan and a member of a Bedouin family of pilgrim guides. Alongside his older brother Hussein, Theeb lives mostly a contented life until a British military officer arrives in their camp carrying a mysterious box and requests guidance through the desert. After initially being left behind, the young boy joins Hussein on the trek, but to say any more would be to say too much.
Shot in southern Jordan, Theeb‘s sprawling locales will no doubt conjure cinematic memories of both Lawrence of Arabia and the westerns of John Ford, and the film manages to strike an exciting narrative balance between the two, as we watch the young hero grow up faster than anyone ever should. The effectiveness of the story hinges largely on Al-Hwietat, whose performance is both convincing wide-eyed and complex.
The narrative sparseness of Theeb does not also apply to its cinematic virtues, which offer plenty for audiences to chew on, whether they’re looking for a non-traditional western adventure or trying to win their office Oscar pool. B+