Naji Abu Nowar directs this simple but affecting tale of a Bedouin boy living in a remote corner of the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I. Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) is the youngest member of a tribe of guides, and when his older brother is asked to lead a British soldier through a tricky part of the desert, he tags along. But the road is perilous, and violent encounters soon place Theeb in dangerous and morally complicated situations. The key to the story is the tribal concept of brotherhood, which can extend even to strangers.
The tale is told from Theeb’s point of view, so explicit details about those he encounters are few, but you’ll easily intuit what’s happening. The film is beautifully shot, taking full advantage of the dramatic desert landscapes.
It’s one boy’s coming-of-age tale, but the wider implications are clear from our perspective a century later. Theeb’s awakening occurs (and is precipitated by) a transitional period between life defined by ancient tribes, and life defined by borders and national allegiances. Colonialism and new technologies will cause this region to undergo its own turbulent transformation, in which brotherhood and allegiances will be sorely tested and violently defended.