There are times when I get a bit disheartened trying to find a film to go see at the local cinema. But recently, I stumbled on David Oelhoffen’s, and it brought back my faith in modern-day cinema.
This film exceeded my expectations, and Viggo Mortensen has risen to the top of my list of noteworthy actors. In the film he masterfully speaks French, Spanish, and Arabic — he writes in Arabic too. For me, it was the story I enjoyed most above all.
Far From Men is set in 1954 Algeria when the war for independence had begun. There is a clash between guerrillas, and the French settlers. Daru (played by Viggo Mortensen) is a settler who lives isolated in the Atlas mountains, teaching Algerian children in this charming schoolhouse. He is delivered an Arab prisoner named Mohamed (Reda Kateb), and ordered to take him to the next town where he will face trial for killing his cousin — and be sentenced to death.
Daru doesn’t want to get involved or take this man to his death. They come under fire from both sides, and end up on the road together. It’s a real test of what becomes of people’s principles when under stress.
The focus on their friendship reflects the bigger picture of what’s taking place in Algeria. The film ends on an incredibly powerful note, but I will not spoil the surprise.
The film is based on a short story The Guest by French-Algerian author Albert Camus. It is from Exile and the Kingdom a collection of his short stories. In the Albert Camus short story, the teacher never leaves his school but — to carry the story forward in the film version — he leaves.
The soundtrack is composed by Nick Cave, and Warren Ellis. Throughout the film we hear the sound of the two men’s heavy footsteps as they crunch over the sharp rocks from the Atlas mountains, continuing their dangerous journey.
The landscape is wildly beautiful, and there are some stunning scenes at night shot under moonlight thanks to cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines.
To master the accents in French, and Arabic, Mortensen spent months with the help of a man from North Africa — who had the accent from the region his character was from. Mortensen made sure he knew the full script in both French, and Arabic — and when he could do both, he knew he was ready.
For a lead actor to shine, it is only made possible with remarkable actors to support the role, and Reda Kateb who plays the prisoner Mohamed is just that person. His character is troubled with conflict yet he acts with strong morals.
Albert Camus liked to explore, how to live decently in an indecent, and illogical world.
David Oelhoffen’s film adaption succeeds in expressing that idea, and gives us an example of a possibility of that. We end with a final message that ‘life is sacred.’