The beauty of director Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb lies in its seeming simplicity. On the surface, it looks like a boy’s coming-of-age adventure story. Yet, on a deeper level, the film explores the death throes of a culture in the wake of globalization.

Like the classic Lawrence of Arabia, the film takes place on the Arabian Peninsula during the gigantic struggle of World War I. However, the focus here is on a tiny Bedouin tribe to which the titular character (played the excellent Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) and his beloved older brother belong. One night, an English soldier and a guide emerge from the inky desert darkness, seeking to rest at the tribe’s camp along the Ottoman railway. Per custom, the travelers are accepted into the camp and Hussein is pretty much forced to lead them along an abandoned, bandit-plagued trail for some mysterious purpose.

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Yet once Theeb sees his brother leave, the little one isn’t far behind. Eventually, the tireless child catches up with his older brother, much to the annoyance of the mission-focused Englishman. Still, the foursome continues their journey through a Monument Valley-like landscape, encountering bloody wells, swarms of insects and rebel Arab fighters. Plot twists with lots of gunfire eventually leave Theeb, which means “wolf” in Arabic, on his own, learning to survive and seeking revenge.

It’s here that the coming-of-age story starts undulating with classical, western themes. The bloody end of the boy’s journey also highlights what the Ottoman railroad, called the “iron pony,” did to nomadic peoples in the dessert. Since the trains went all the way to Mecca, the need for guides fell off a cliff. As such, men who were once professionals became bandits, and a way of life was lost. When Theeb eventually rides off into the sunset, the boy is no longer a child, and his future, changed by technology and war, is destined to be quite different from that of his ancestors.

Theeb is playing at 4:45 p.m.


(credit: Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul)

(credit: Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul)

More Highlights For Monday, April 20

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The Dinkytown Uprising (Al Milgrom and Dan Geiger, USA) For 40 days and 40 nights, protesters occupied a section of Dinkytown to oppose the construction of a Red Barn burger joint. The story is retold by seven people who participated in the epic 1970 protest to fast-food homogeneity.(2:00)

The Hunting Ground (Kirby Dick, USA) An expose on sexual assaults on America’s college campuses, the film uses personal testimony and statistics to harrowing effect. This screening will take place at the U of M’s Northrop Best Buy Theater. (4:45)

Next To Her (Asaf Korman, Israel) A twentysomething security guard finds her close relationship with her mentally disabled sister in an unhealthy state when a male co-worker comes between them. (9:40)


For the festival schedule, and a complete listing of all the movies being shown, click here. Ticket information is available here.

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Throughout the entirety of the 2015 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, will be spotlighting one notable movie each day, along with other notable screenings. To see’s complete coverage on the MSPIFF, click here.

Jonathon Sharp