Far From Men is set in Algeria in 1954, a time of great unrest and violence as the war for independence from the French is beginning. Daru (played by Viggo Mortensen, from Eastern Promises) is a school teacher in a remote village. But he is charged with the task of escorting the dissident Mohamed (played by Reda Kateb, from A Prophet) to a regional police station to face a murder charge. The police have their hands full with the local resistance movement. Daru is at first reluctant to undertake the mission because it involves leaving his children behind. But ultimately he realises he has no choice but to undertake the mission and deliver Mohamed to the courts. The two face a long trek through an inhospitable landscape as they cross the forbidding Atlas Mountains. They encounter a few dangers along the way as they cross paths with French soldiers, and rebels.
Far From Men has the trappings of those classic westerns of yesteryear, but it transposes the usual tropes of the genre to the Algerian desert. It also reimagines the tropes of the familiar buddy movie/road movie to good effect, as the film explores the slowly growing bond that develops between Daru and Mohamad during their journey.
Far From Men is based on The Guest, a short story written by the well known existentialist Albert Camus (The Plague). Camus’ story took place entirely within Daru’s small school house, but director David Oelhoffen (In Your Wake) and co-writer Antoine Lacomblez (My Sweet Pepperland) have opened it up and turned the story into something of a road movie. They also bring a more contemplative nature to the story with a delicate balance between action and an exploration of moral choices and the nature of man. And Oelhoffen has changed Camus’ downbeat ending into something more uplifting and optimistic, which suits the material perfectly.
This is sparse filmmaking, as it essentially features two characters walking across an unfamiliar and inhospitable landscape. The pair are dwarfed by the vast landscape, giving the film a few surface similarities to Joseph Losey’s 1970 film Figures in a Landscape. This is only the second feature film for director Oelhoffen, but he imbues the material with a great sense of atmosphere. This is an elegiac take on the western, and some great cinematography of the harsh Algerian landscape from Guillaume Deffontaines enriches the material and makes the landscape a character in the drama. And there is an evocative score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that also complements the superb visuals.
Mortensen has previously demonstrated a felicity with languages in several of his films, and here he has a strong presence as Daru, a good man who is slow to violence. Oelhoffen slowly teases out some background details, giving us further insights into the enigmatic and conflicted character.
Director: David Oelhoffen
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb
Release date: 30 July, 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television