Film Notes: Theeb (2014) directed by Naji Abu Nowar

JO – UK – AE – QA / 100 minutes / color /Immortal Entertainment, Bayt Al Shawareb, Noor Pictures Dir: Naji Abu Nowar Pro: Bassel Ghandour, Rupert Lloyd Scr: Bassel Ghandour, Naji Abu Nowar Cine: Wolfgang Thaler Mus: Jerry Lane Cast: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh, Jack Fox Release Date: (Venice Film Festival) 4 September 2014. (Toronto International Film Festival) 8 September 2014 (London Film Festival) 11 October 2014 (FILMADRID International Film Festival) 9 June 2015.

Theeb premiered in the Horizons section at the 71st Venice International Film Festival on 4 September 2014, where Abu Nowar won the award for Best Director. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards, making it the first Jordanian nomination ever. At the 69th British Academy Film Awards, Theeb was nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. (Source: Wikipedia)

3170902 Synopsis: 1916. While war rages in the Ottoman Empire, Hussein raises his younger brother Theeb (“Wolf”) in a traditional Bedouin community that is isolated by the vast, unforgiving desert. The brothers’ quiet existence is suddenly interrupted when a British Army officer and his guide ask Hussein to escort them to a water well located along the old pilgrimage route to Mecca. So as not to dishonour his recently deceased father, Hussein agrees to lead them on the long and treacherous journey. The young, mischievous Theeb secretly chases after his brother, but the group soon find themselves trapped amidst threatening terrain riddled with Ottoman mercenaries, Arab revolutionaries, and outcast Bedouin raiders. Naji Abu Nowar’s powerful and assured directorial debut, set in the land of Lawrence of Arabia, is a wondrous “Bedouin Western” about a boy who, in order to survive, must become a man and live up to the name his father gave him. (Source: Official Website)


In Bedouin law, if a stranger arrives at your tent requesting refuge, you must grant him protection until the threat can be peacefully resolved. This is known as the law of Dakheel and it is considered a sacred duty for a host to protect his Dakheel, no matter what the circumstance. Indeed, there are many stories of a host granting protection to his guest only to discover the Dakheel has killed a member of the host’s own family. But surprisingly this will not deter the host from his duty; he will protect the killer until peace has been made between them. A man’s reputation is defined by what he does in such difficult circumstances. The more impossible the situation the more respect he receives for upholding the law.

Bedouin customs like this have grown from their environment, the desert. They are renowned for their generous hospitality because in the desert you must be able to rely on the kindness of strangers to survive. The terrain is too harsh, water and food too scarce for selfish behaviour. People need to help each other to ensure their mutual existence. It was the combination of a culture of cooperation for survival and a Dakheel type moral dilemma that formed the initial idea for Theeb. What would happen if you were stranded with your worst enemy but needed their help to stay alive? How would this relationship develop?

To overcome such a merciless predicament, a person would have to develop incredible strength of character. In Bedouin culture, a boy who endured such an ordeal would be called a Theeb (“Wolf”). If someone calls you a wolf, you have earned their respect as a man of daring and cunning, a person who can achieve impossible feats. The wolf is an ambiguous creature both revered and feared, it is both a pack animal, loyal to its tribe, and a strong individual capable of existing by itself. So to be named Theeb at birth is to have the expectation of greatness placed upon you. To survive the boy must live up to the name his father gave him. But his success would be tainted by the tragic loss of childhood innocence. Naji Abu Nowar (Source: Official Website)

Naji Abu Nowar was born in England and lives in Amman, Jordan. He wrote and directed the short film Death of a Boxer (09). Theeb (14) is his debut feature film. (Source: Toronto International Film Festival)

A few days ago I had the chance to watch Theeb in a private screening, a film that, unfortunately, I do not think it will find its way in the commercial circuit, at least in Spain. Quite a pity. Without being a superb film, it certainly deserves a wider audience. Don’t miss it, if you have the opportunity.

cynephilia (Film review)

The Hollywood Reporter (Film review)

Official Website

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