Directed by Naji Abu Nowar
“Theeb”, Jordan’s Oscar-nominated entry for the Best Foreign Language Film award, is an often exciting, yet ultimately unsatisfying, coming of age thriller set during the Ottoman occupation of Jordan in World War I. It is a visually stunning and honest representation of life in the desert, as it shows us the beauty of its vistas, counterbalanced by the vibrant life of its numerous arthropods. You will never want to see another fly ever again after watching this film.
The performances are exceptional, especially Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, as the adventurous, and eager-to-grow-up-too-fast title character. Special mention to Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh, as the “Stranger,” who reminded me of Rod Steiger in Sergio Leone’s epic, “Giu La Testa” – a man’s man with a heart of gold…well, looking for gold, anyway.
Now that I write that, the entire film feels like a Leone film, in that it’s a story about one or two people of no consequence, stuck in very uncertain and political times, who, in spite of their lack of concern for the wider world, play a role in it. However, the third act of all Leone’s films are always of great import…and astonishing. “Theeb’s” third act, on the other hand, is thin…very thin…and seems like a means to wrap things up, instead of something we organically hurdle toward. And in this world, and in these circumstances…it should have hurdled!
Instead, it shrugs.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s good…and often VERY good. The second act is filled with tension, and you care deeply about this boy. But, this has been tapped as one of the five best foreign language films of the year…and I can think of at least three films that were not nominated, which easily bested it, including “The Club” (Chile), “The Fencer”(Finland) and “1944” (Estonia)…and possibly three more in “The Assassin” (Taiwan), “Labyrinth of Lies”(Germany) and “Brand New Testament” (Belgium).
When it comes to a streaming service near you…you should definitely seek it out. It’s worth it. And…y’know…tell me why I’m wrong. I could probably be persuaded.