13 Oct Far From Men (France)
SUNDAY 26 June 10.00 am
TUESDAY 28 June 8.15 pm
RUNNING TIME 102 minutes
It is 1954, the war is beginning and village schoolteacher Daru (Viggo Mortensen), an ex-French Army soldier, is caught in the crossfire. Born in Algeria but Spanish by lineage, he’s a man out of time and place, perceived as alien by both locals and colonisers alike. So when he reluctantly agrees to escort the dissident Mohamed (Reda Kateb) to a regional police station to face trial for murder, a series of incidents and revelations force the question of where Daru’s loyalties truly lie.
REVIEW BY LOUISE KELLER
It is with great subtlety that this affecting tale of courage and honour plays out. Based on Albert Camus’ short story The Guest (L’Hote) and set on a western backdrop, director David Oelhoffen has effectively crafted a drama about morality. The landscape is remote and barren, allowing the characters’ dilemmas to be isolated from society as a whole. Donning the mantle of a decent man, Viggo Mortensen is remarkable – in part because of the absence of remarkability of his character, a humble village schoolteacher forced to the crossroads, quietly displaying his despair of killing, respect for humanity and gratitude for living. Mortensen is always remarkable, not withstanding this is his first French language film, delivered (together with Arabic and Spanish) with consummate ease.
When the film begins, we meet Daru (Mortensen) teaching geography to a group of young children in a lonely schoolhouse. It is Algeria in 1954 and the schoolhouse is nestled in a small valley surrounded by stark, rocky mountains. The setting is striking; it looks as though an artist has splashed his paint on the sky canvas. But it is an unforgiving world in which Daru lives, which we quickly learn, when a lawman brings a prisoner – tied up like an animal and yanked behind his horse. He is accused of killing his cousin – something about which we later learn. There’s a sharp contrast between the way Daru treats Mohamed (Reda Kateb) and that of his captor: Daru treating him with humanity and respect. Kateb has a wonderful presence – much is conveyed by his physicality and the way he communicates.
After refusing to escort Mohamed to the court in the nearby town of Tinguit and insisting he will not become involved, there is a moment when this changes. It’s done subtly: we see Daru glancing at a photograph hanging on the wall – of a woman. The photo is not in focus but in that moment everything changes. Daru agrees to take Mohamed to his destination, treating him not as a prisoner, but as a guest or equal.
Once the two men are on their way, the dynamic changes due to the circumstances around them. With rebels and soldiers pursuing them, they are suddenly fugitives, accomplices, prisoners and hostages – bound to help each other in order to survive. It is when they are hostages with rebel soldiers that we begin to learn a little bit more about Daru and his background. Little by little we learn key things about him. Meanwhile the relationship between Daru and Mohamed develops. They even share jokes at the most surprising times and the scene in which Mohamed admits he has never made love to a woman and asks Daru what is it like, is touching.
Both men give each other something invaluable – in both cases it is offered and accepted graciously. There is little dialogue and these key emotional moments are all the more affecting due to their sublime understatement. Guillaume Deffontaines’ cinematography showcases the harsh landscape with grandeur, while the music score (by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis reflects the difficulty of the film’s journey, with scratchy strings, pizzicato and irregular musical sounds to embrace the solitude and dilemma.
This is a gem of a film, bursting with things to say and whose characters become more and more meaningful as the road is travelled. Mortensen is superb.