With the access that audiences have to movies these days, the term world cinema is becoming obsolete. In cinemas and on our home screens, we can get access to Nordic thrillers, Spanish farces and Argentinian melodramas as easy as getting movies from the US. A recently acclaimed film which falls into this general classification is Theeb from the United Arab Emirates.
Set in the Ottoman province of Hijaz during the first world war, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) is the third and youngest son of the former Sheik of his tribe. He and his brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) are learning the ways of the tribe. Into the small community comes an ally from another tribe and a British army officer (Jack Fox). They are on a mysterious mission and require the services of a guide to take them along a dangerous trail to a water well. Hussein is selected for the task. After being told explicitly to stay, Theeb tags along behind the group. The journey is not going to be easy.
This is a coming of age story, but not in the conventional sense. Theeb is growing and learning as a child should. What he gets exposed to on his travels is something that could make or break a person. He is required to grow up quickly and brutally. For a first time actor Jacir is terrific. He conveys the changes in Theeb through his actions rather than the minimal dialogue. It is an assured and solid performance.
The desert is just like an additional character in the film. It is the physical thing that helps the boy to grow and learn. If you cannot survive and learn there are no second chances. It is literally life and death. What is communicated by the visuals is the beautiful yet brutal aspect of the environment. The wide open spaces only reinforce the sense of isolation from the rest of the world. Although the brothers are told there is a war going on and what they are doing is contributing to it, the fighting seems far away.
We as an audience are not provided with any back story and there is no character introduced to provide exposition. So when the drama starts to unfold there is a genuine sense of tension. It also helps that the audience have no preconceptions regarding the actors. Anything can happen and it does.
Overall, the film may be light on dialogue but it more than compensates for in atmosphere.