Revenge, loss of innocence and the conflict between old and new permeate Naji Abu Nowar’s terrific debut, Theeb. Set in the desolate if beautiful landscape of Hijaz during the First World War, Nowar’s picture focuses on the titular Bedouin scamp (impressive newcomer Eid): first he and his brother Hussein (Salameh) act as guides to a British officer (Fox) and his companion (Audeh), then must adapt when things don’t quite go to plan.
Complementing those aforementioned and familiar thematic concerns, the director makes other nods to classic westerns in his audio and visual cues, some more playful than others: “Say your prayers, Pilgrims,” threatens a bandit during a shootout, rather wonderfully. And it’s brilliantly put together: one key scene scored by an onrushing steam train is particularly elegant, effortlessly correlating a burgeoning modernism and inevitable moral decay. That’s not to say this is pompous or too heavy at all – Theeb is a self-contained coming-of-age adventure at its core. A tense and really quite beautiful one to boot. [Chris Fyvie]