A worthy nominee of this year's Best Foreign-Language films (a couple of the other prestigious ones are from France and Hungary) comes from Jordan - in Naji Abu Nowar's intriguing account of tradition and imperialism set in western Arabia.
Theeb (fully subtitled) revolves around this Middle East culture change circa 1916 in a Bedouin society. A lauded sheik is deceased with an older brother Hussein (a capricious Hussein Salameh) showing his younger eponymous sibling (Jacid Eid) how the well works. Nowar's lush rendering (at times recalling Lawrence of Arabia) and laconic way with the dialogue offers up much nuance for what really has a larger scope than the running time indicates.
What has elements of an adventure and a thriller while touching on many levels hinges on what happens when Hussein helps an Englishman (Jack Fox) and his apprentice (Marji Audeh) as plans for a railway are underway and the criminal element rears its ugly head. This leaves a tag-a-long curious Theeb in a tremulous position where his heritage and character has to stand quite a crucible with perilous things besides an industrial age new to him.
He'll pair up with a wounded foe (Hassan Muttag) in order to be steadfast against the knavish and cruel marauders as a socio-political message is like an undertow to a rather convincing character study, a sort of creative coming-of-ager. The powers rising up - a nouveau riche - are pitted against a camaraderie, unity which entailed integrity in earning a living.
A true sense of finding one's identity and purpose in a strange, explosive milieu is expressed vividly in the filmmaking as a precocious Eid responds with naturalistic grace under pressure (a Hemingway hero?) which stands alongside some of the best young actor performances in recent memory (as many recall the amazing work of Jacob Tremblay in Room). Having the clarity of character and perspective of "Theeb" with outposts and ambushes among Western influences unveils itself with energy and prescient provocation.