Theeb

A British officer, during WWI, hires some Bedouin guides to take him across the Arabian desert.  Theeb, a boy of about 10 and the younger brother of one of the guides, decides to tag along.  After a series of unfortunate incidents, Theeb finds himself alone in the desert with a man he has no reason to trust, but on whom he must depend if he is going to stay alive.  Readers of Dune will recognize the problem.

The movie is billed as an adventure story, but it is more of an ethnographic study, in the tradition of silent films Nanook of the North and Grass, each of which sought to document a way of life that was rapidly disappearing.  The film-makers spent a year with the Bedouin tribe they eventually used as the basis for the film, and several of the characters (Theeb and his older brother) are played by actual Bedouins, not professional actors.  The difficulties of negotiating life in an unforgiving environment — with the war being in many ways the least of those problems — is vividly demonstrated.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film — the first nomination for Jordan.

I was a little surprised at the high quality of the cinematography, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been.  While Jordan has no internationally recognized directors or film stars, it has been a favored location for high-profile Hollywood films for decades, from Lawrence of Arabia to The Martian.  Since those films usually hire local crews, it makes perfect sense that their film-making standards would be pretty high.

A fascinating film, and well worth your time.  No s&x or graphic violence, but the scenes involving the little boy completely alone (as he thinks) in the desert might be too intense for younger children.

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