Freely adapted from Albert Camus’ The Guest, David Oelhoffen’s Far From Men stars Viggo Mortensen as the pied noir schoolteacher and reservist charged with delivering prisoner Mohamed (Reda Kateb) to the town of Tinguit where he awaits trial by the French for killing his cousin, and will surely be condemned to death. It’s Algeria 1954 and freedom fighters are battling French soldiers. Despite some contemporary references to terrorism and hostage-taking, Far From Men on a political level stays true to its Algerian setting – with its hero Daru caught between two worlds, seen as French by the Arabs and as Arab by the French. But it’s on the metaphoric level that Oelhoffen’s film resonates most deeply – with man taking charge of his own destiny – Mohamed ultimately choosing life in the desert with the nomads over an endless cycle of bloodshed and revenge. And Daru too chooses a new life away from his schoolhouse on the plateau and his pupils, escaping his fate and unburying himself from his lonely existence far from men since the death of his wife ten years previously. Despite some great performances, beautifully lens-flared cinematography, music by Nick Cave and some delicate moments (such as Mohamed and Daru’s farewell when they wish each other goodbye in each other’s language), Far From Men makes for a drawn out feature that feels too simple and controlled. It’s an existential journey of two men finding their way in the desert, but as a parable of contemporary relations between the Christian and Muslim worlds, so neatly expounded in the prayers they mutter before eating, Loin Des Hommes is a long way off.
Far From Men is showing on Oct 18th & 19th at the 58th BFI London Film Festival