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Posts Tagged ‘“Lawrence of Arabia”’

Nicole Kidman

“QUEEN OF THE DESERT”  My rating: C+

129 minutes | MPAA rating PG-13

“Queen of the Desert” is quite possibly the oddest film of director Warner Herzog’s wildly idiosyncratic  career.

A mash-up of woman’s picture, real-life biography and sweeping  “Lawrence of Arabia” images, it stars Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, a British adventuress, diplomat, archaeologist and feminist who became an expert on the Middle East in the years before World War I.

We first encounter our heroine in 1888. The daughter of a steel magnate, she’s being groomed for a fitting marriage.

“You will not scare the young men with your intelligence,” her mother warns, but Gertrude is having none of it. She’s too independent, too strong willed to endure simpering aristocratic society.

(Kidman, now 49, plays Bell from age 21 to 40. Remarkably, she pulls off the youthful Gertrude, thanks to great makeup and God-given bone structure.)

Her exasperated father finally agrees to let her join the British embassy in Teheran where she soon finds herself falling for Henry  Cadogan (James Franco, struggling to maintain a Brit accent), a low-ranking staff member assigned as her escort. Henry’s prospects aren’t promising, but like Gertrude he loves the desert. And he’s not afraid of her independent streak.

Daddy, however, nixes this liaison, and a heartbroken Gertrude turns her back on romance, devoting herself to travels in the Middle East, crossing vast deserts with a handful of faithful local guides.

During her travels she runs across a young T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson), working on an archaeological dig at Petra in Jordan. Years away from his exploits among the Arab tribes in the Great War, Lawrence already wears the native costume that will become his trademark.  He and Gertrude flirt innocently, but neither is looking for a relationship.

Over years Gertrude is befriended by the Bedouin. She also finds a lover — platonic — in married British statesman Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damien Lewis).

Eventually Gertrude is recognized by her government and with Lawrence is part of the commission that divides up the Middle East in the wake of the war.

 

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theeb“THEEB” My rating: B

100 minutes |No MPAA rating 

On a purely visual level the Oscar-nominated “Theeb” (for foreign language film)  is a knockout, capturing a Middle Eastern desert landscape with an eye to vast spaces and intimate detail in a style clearly meant to evoke memories of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

The setting — the Bedouin fight against the Turks during World War I — is the same as in David Lean’s great epic.

But this accomplished  directing debut from English/Jordanian filmmaker  Naji Abu Nowar is unusual in that it approaches the material from the viewpoint of an 11-year-old boy.

“Theeb” (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) — his name is Arabic for “wolf” — is the third son a recently deceased sheik. His closest companion is his older brother Hasseim (Hussein Salaamed Al-Sweilhiyeen), who is teaching the boy in the ways of the desert.

The film’s opening scenes have a timeless quality — it’s hard to pin down if the action is taking place today or a century ago.  It’s not until the arrival of a British officer (Jack Fox) in the nomads’ camp that we realize there’s a war going on. (In fact, Theeb and his family seem not to even be aware of the conflict.)

The Brit, evidently on a secret mission,  asks Hasseim to guide him to a distant watering hole where he is to meet up with some Arab fighters. Disobeying his sibling, Theeb follows at a distance until he’s so far from home that Hasseim has no choice but to bring the boy along on the journey.

The desert is always dangerous. In this case the perils are multiplied by bandits who prey on travelers.

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