Movies built around the local landscape can sometimes feel like a drawn-out, muted tour, depending too heavily on the intensity of the surroundings to pull narrative weight. Theeb, a film about a group of Bedouin people in World War I, instead shapes its plot around the dramatically empty desert and staggering mountains. In an opening scene, a character hears a sound in the distance and walks away from his friends and the fire to investigate, disappearing instantly into the impenetrable dark.
British/Jordanian filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar’s deep engagement with the material extends beyond the setting. Over a period of eight months, he lived with the Bedouin people in Jordan, learning about their lives while casting the tribespeople. Theeb demonstrates again that acting is easy (or that some people making lots of money in Hollywood are awful), primarily through the riveting performance of the young lead, Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat. In the film, his perspective is constantly in the forefront, and he responds to the complex political and social situations depicted in the story about as innocently and cluelessly as the average viewer will—although sometimes he displays a kind of laudable cunning that is unsurprising coming from the young hero.
Themes of betrayal, revenge, brotherhood, and independence will grip you, and the high-stakes plotline imbues even the serene moments with a murmuring nervousness and momentum. With the suspenseful story, breathtakingly authentic acting, and cinematic shots of Jordan, it will appeal to both snobs and people who whine about subtitled movies being boring.