Sunday, December 06, 2015


It's not fair to say the Western is dead or even dormant - for all people complain about how many superhero movies there are now, there are probably roughly the same number of westerns, a genre whose passing we frequently worry about - but sometimes you have to kind of stretch the definition. I'm guessing I know a fair number of folks who would take umbrage to the idea that this most American of genres could have a noteworthy entry from the middle east, but that's the way it works sometimes.

Worth checking out if it plays your area, though. The booking in Boston is only through Thursday, and while I wouldn't be shocked if it stuck around in one way or another, why not be sure and carve out an evening this week?


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 December 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The Western never really dies; it just picks up and moves to unexpected places in unexpected forms. In this case, that's a coming-of-age film set in Arabia, and it's an impressive, thrilling piece of entertainment.

The year is 1916, the place is the Hijaz province of the Ottoman Empire, part of what will later become Saudi Arabia and currently the home of a Bedouin tribe whose sheik has passed away in the last year. Enter an English soldier, Edward (Jack Fox), who along with his translator is looking for a guide to a well on the old pilgrims' path to Mecca where he would reconnect with his regiment. The old sheik's second son, Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweihiyeen) volunteers. Perhaps not unexpectedly, his younger brother Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hweitat), a boy of about ten, follows, and with the schedule being too tight for Hussein to bring Theeb home, he continues with them, despite the dangers of the desert and raiders.

"Theeb" means wolf, and though the boy has a prickly manner, that's the sort of name that he's a fair distance from fitting, as we see from his nervousness when asked to kill a goat in preparation for the night's feast early on. Writer/director Naji Abu Nowar does not spend much time explicitly laying out the boy's story, but it's perhaps not tremendously difficult to figure out - formerly the chief's son and thus important, now very close to one brother but not the other, he's a child without a clear place or obvious skills who nevertheless feels he should be important. That sort of vagueness is probably somewhat convenient when working with a child actor like Jacir Eid All-Hweitat; it lets him capture how Theeb can be somewhat presumptuous but also lonely even within a tight-knit community without ever having the audience feel that something doesn't fit. It makes the boy captivating to watch - there is always a great conflict between the powerful emotions driving him and what he seems capable of actually doing.

Full review on EFC.

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