It might surprise no one that Viggo Mortensen, a man of many talents, also speaks French. And he more than proves it in French director David Oelhoffen’s Far from Men (Loin des Hommes in French), a film based on short story “The Guest” by existentialist writer Albert Camus. Oelhoffen explores two characters that seem entirely different and on opposing sides, before stripping them to their core in a very human story.
An ex-soldier turned schoolteacher named Daru (Mortensen) teaches French to Algerian students (something the French settlers aren’t happy about) in mountain village of Algeria. He seems perfectly content with his life and his students. It’s 1954 and the Algerian war is underway in the fight for Algerian independence from France. Settlers vs. rebels and everyone in between is caught in the crossfire of this eight-year war.
One day, Daru is tasked with taking Mohamed (Reda Kateb), a villager accused of killing his cousin, to the French authorities. Two men on seemingly opposing sides become kindred spirits as they journey to the town of Tinguit. They have to survive through villagers looking for Mohamed for vengeance and also manage to get caught in the cross-fight between both sides of the war conflict.
The film’s look is wonderfully rugged, earthy hues the color of the sand create an atmosphere of danger as well as loneliness. Viggo Mortensen, without many words, can portray an insurmountable amount of emotion ranging from doubt, sadness, hope, to name just a few. His expressive body language and facial features often speak for themselves. He has great onscreen chemistry with French actor Reda Kateb, whose character is someone you immediately sympathize with due to his quiet and calm demeanor. He has just as many past remorse as Mortensen’s character, though I wish they would have given us more of this exchange between the both of them, as it’s the highlight of the film.
With pretty decent character development, one thing that isn’t as developed is the background of the Algerian war, and the background of the French’s history with the Algerians in general. We’re allowed snippets of history, Oelhoffen sprinkling them here and there when it is convenient or when the film’s scene requires more background to understand present issues, but it is never entirely fleshed out. Also, the film is slowly paced and never quite picks up as much as one would expect it to. Some of it could have been condensed rather than have it spread so thin.
Ultimately, Far from Men is an interesting story about two men’s journey and their place in a changing country. The color palette is rich, yet mellow and though it takes a bit to really get into the characters’ back story, it allows us to take to them and figure out how much more they have in common than they think. The pacing is very slow, however, which may deter from the overall enjoyment of the film and test one’s patience as well. There could have been more back story about the war also, because it directly ties in with both characters. And though they’re developed enough, there could have been more. Regardless, it’s a solid story about two people on different sides of the tracks, but one that begs to be richer and more fluid.