Archive for the ‘Theeb (2015)’ Category

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Film Movement

Release Date: May 17, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 100 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 Arabic HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: 2.0 Arabic Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Notes: A DVD edition of this film is also available.

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“I love shooting on film, that’s what I would always do if I had the choice. I’ve certainly seen digital films that look like they were shot in film, but I haven’t seen any great works of cinematography that look like the great films, like The Leopard (1963). Until I see that, I’ll always try and aspire to shoot on film to emulate the films that I love. It’s really thanks to my incredible producers who managed to work out a way for us to be able to shoot on film. Now I’d like to go higher and shoot on 35mm, that’s my dream.” –Naji Abu Nowar (BFI, February 15, 2016)

The year is 1916. The First World War is raging in Europe and has now spread into the Ottoman Empire where the Great Arab Revolt is brewing. A British officer named T.E. Lawrence is plotting with the Arab Prince Faisal to establish an Arab kingdom. Meanwhile, Hussein raises his younger brother Theeb (“Wolf”) in a traditional Bedouin community that is isolated by the vast, unforgiving desert. These two brothers are not aware of the tremendous upheavals taking place at the fringes of their world, but their quiet existence is suddenly interrupted when a British Army officer and his guide ask Hussein to escort them to a water well located along the old pilgrimage route to Mecca. So as not to dishonor his recently deceased father, Hussein agrees to lead them on the long and treacherous journey. The young, mischievous Theeb secretly chases after his brother, but the group soon find themselves trapped amidst threatening terrain riddled with Ottoman mercenaries, Arab revolutionaries, and outcast Bedouin raiders. Theeb must grow up fast if he is to endure the hardships that await him and live up to the name his father gave him.

Naji Abu Nowar’s powerful and assured directorial debut, shot entirely on location against the ravishing landscape of Wadi Rum and Wadi Arabian Jordan, has been lauded for Wolfgang Thaler’s gorgeous 16mm cinematography. However, there is so much more for audiences to admire while watching this character driven coming-of-age saga. The real power of the film lies in Nowar’s decision to tell this story from Theeb’s perspective. As a matter of fact, Nowar has commented on this aspect of his narrative and his decision to cast Jacir Eid in the main role:

“It was crucial because our story centers around one young character, Theeb. The whole film is told from his perspective. And his experience is so dramatic, the predicament so unforgiving, that we needed to capture a real life wolf to portray our fictitious one. The whole film hinged on finding the boy who could portray both man and child; who could be timid at one moment and indomitable in the next; a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

We were incredibly lucky to find Theeb very early on in the process. To gain funding, we decided to shoot a mood board to pitch potential financiers. We asked our Bedouin contact Eid Suweilheen to help us find a young boy to play Theeb. Eid sent us his son Jacir to help out. It was more a matter of convenience than any notion that we were going to cast him. But as soon as we got him on camera we knew Jacir had something special. He had real screen presence.” –Naji Abu Nowar (Press Kit, June 2014)

The process of finding actors for the film was taken quite seriously, but Nowar chose to cast locals from the various villages surrounding Wadi Rum instead of professionals for authenticity. The casting team eventually saw over 250 people before finding the appropriate cast.

“We conducted one-on-one discussions to see if our potential actors had an active imagination, evaluate their willingness to share emotion, and most importantly their eagerness to indulge in something new. We narrowed 250 individuals down to 20 who showed the most promise. These 20 were given a weekend acting workshop to test their potential. Of the 20, only 11 were selected to participate in the principal acting workshops that would continue for almost eight months until principal photography in October of 2012. With the exception of Jack Fox, the entire cast were non-professional actors.

This lengthy process was crucial because we had to locate the right people to form Theeb’s key relationships. For the role of Theeb’s brother Hussein, we cast one of Jacir’s cousins. During the workshops we discovered that the real life Hussein was just like an older brother to Jacir and therefore all we had to do was capture their natural relationship on camera. Finding the ruthless Stranger was a much tougher proposition. The Stranger needed to be terrifying but also required a hidden sensitivity. When we met Hassan [Mutlag] he was very intimidating and you could see the potential for terrible violence in his eyes. But during the process, he began to open up and shared a deeply personal story that almost brought us to tears. The Stranger’s character needed that duality.

The decision to cast the Bedouin was one of the most rewarding of the filmmaking process. The authenticity they gave to the roles is ingrained on screen.” –Naji Abu Nowar (Press Kit, June 2014)

 This meticulous interest in character detail seems to have paid off, because there is an authenticity evident in every frame of the film. It sometimes seems that the film’s efficient storytelling is overlooked in order to discuss the political subtext inherent within, and this is unfortunate. Nowar’s film is a satisfying epic adventure in its own right, and it clear that the director’s main objective was telling a captivating story.

“I’m in this for cinema. I’m not a politician trying to use cinema as a way of expressing myself. My politics is cinema, that’s what I love, that’s what I’m interested in and I hope that Theeb will just be allowed to be a film for that sake. I hope that people will judge it as they would judge any film rather than trying to ascribe some political message.” –Naji Abu Nowar (BFI, February 15, 2016)

Theeb certainly works on this level, and it is no wonder that it earned an Oscar™ nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (the first Jordanian nomination in any category). Actually, this is only one of many accolades bestowed upon the film, and all of them have been well deserved.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a clear Blu-ray case with the film’s one sheet artwork (which has been altered slightly to fit a Blu-ray sleeve and to include review blurbs). The interior of the case also includes film related artwork and liner notes about the film. The presentation is marginally superior to that of most Blu-ray releases, and it is especially pleasing to see that Lionsgate utilized the original one sheet art for this release (even if one might prefer they use the version without all of the critical praise).

The animated menus were designed using a combination of film related artwork and footage from the film itself. An excerpt from Jerry Lane’s score accompanies the footage.

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Film Movement’s 1080p transfer of Wolfgang Thaler’s gorgeous 16mm cinematography does the film adequate justice. It is surprising how crisp and clear a 16mm image can be, and this transfer showcases fine detail with an authentic layer of film grain that is always consistent and never distracting. The period attire, skin, and desert textures are revealed in an incredible amount of detail while the colors remain accurate if extremely subdued. Black levels are consistently deep and rich while simultaneously revealing the all too important details that linger within the shadows. Compression artifacts and film flaws are never noticeably evident either, and there doesn’t seem to be an overuse of DNR either. This is an excellent transfer of a beautifully shot film.

Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 HD Master Audio lossless transfer is also a wonderful representation of the film’s original sound mix. While it is probably not as dynamic as one would expect from the standard action Blockbuster, Theeb’s subtle mix is extremely effective and engulfs the viewer as it brings them into this desert universe. Music is thoroughly rich and detailed as it enjoys effective and well prioritized spacing throughout the channels (not that it ever calls attention to itself). The film’s ambience is the smoking gun of this track and is also clear and well-placed. Meanwhile, dialogue and sound effects always remain clear and well-prioritized.

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Director’s Audio Commentary with Naji Abu Nowar

Naji Abu Nowar’s English language commentary track is always engaging and rather informative. Nowar discusses the challenges of making the film and relays memories from the set while also discussing his story and directorial choices. There are some very interesting tidbits about the Bedouin culture and life throughout the track as well. This is certainly worth a listen.

Waves ’98: A 2015 Short Film Directed by Lebanese Artist and Filmmaker Ely Dagher

Waves ’98 was a sensation of the Cannes Film Festival after being shortlisted as one of 8 from a list of 4550 short film submissions and went on to win the Palme d’Or on May 24, 2015.

Waves '98

This is as much a narrative film as it is a personal visual essay dedicated to Dagher’s hometown, Beirut. The film is an artistic exploration of the director’s current relation with his Lebanon, his home country, projected through the story of a teenager and set in 1998. Disillusioned with his life in the suburbs of segregated Beirut, Omar’s discovery lures him into the depths of the city. Immersed into a world that is so close yet so isolated from his reality that he eventually finds himself struggling to keep his attachments, his sense of home. The overall Narrative of the film is heavily based on Ely’s efforts to understand his changing relationship with the city and its life, juxtaposed with the narrative of a teenager’s exciting discovery of this segregated city.

It is at once interesting and perplexing to see this short included on the disc since there doesn’t seem to be any real connection to Theeb. Having said this, those that enjoy short films will find something to appreciate.

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Final Words:

Theeb is a surprisingly engaging film given the right audience, and it is hoped that this Blu-ray release will earn the film an even larger fan base.

Review by: Devon Powell

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