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Ruta 66 Interview - Translation

Many thanks to Ollie and Zoe for translating the Viggo interview that appeared in the December issue of the Spanish magazine Ruta 66.

Far from the Icon, Close to the Man

© One World Films.
by Ignacio Julia

He shows up on the rooftop terrace of the hotel, where the media have been scheduled for the promotional interviews of Far From Men, wearing the immortal t-shirt of his favourite team, San Lorenzo de Almagro, a fixation he carries from the childhood years he spent in Argentina. Hanging from his shoulder, a bag with a publicity logo of Brighton 66´s Modernista, a CD he says is "very good." His current partner, Ariadna Gil, sister of the founders of the Barcelona mod band, is the reason he knows the band.

Viggo Mortensen (New York, 1958) has the body of the classic man, rich in faculties: handsome and cultured, author of poetry books and musician of unclassified genre, photographer and painter, instinctive actor who resists vain stardom. He declined to appear in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit - with an indisputable reason, because Aragorn doesn´t appear in these books by Tolkien - and answered Tarantino, who wanted him for his new Western, with a firm refusal. He's passionate about anthropology and has specialised in the ethnography of South American natives. He publishes his literary work, and that of little known or polemic authors in his own publishing house, Perceval Press, founded in 2002.

On top of that, he is multilingual and an experienced rider... what more can you ask for in these times of brainless celebrities? An eloquent kindness that manifests itself as he answers the questions with a slight Argentinian accent because Spanish is the language he prefers. At times the interviewer believes himself to be in front of that man from many of his films, an apparently good man who hides a fatal inner conflict. He has worked for filmmakers as unique as David Cronenberg, Walter Salles, John Hillcoat or Gus Van Sant, and now he's supporting the French director, David Oelhoffen.

Oelhoffen´s second film, Far from Men, develops a story by Albert Camus written in 1954, at the beginning of the war in Algeria. Its subjects, a teacher who is the son of Andalusian emigrants and an Arab accused of homicide, are forced to journey in a savage land hounded by their enemies, exposed to crossfire. It's in that rugged landscape that both will have to open up, understand each other, become allies. One more time Mortensen breathed genuine humanity into an individual trapped between reason and violence.

We talked about Far from Men, but also about his many other facets. With pleasure...

What attracted you to the Daru character in Far From Men?

David Oelhoffen had written the script thinking about a kind of actor like the one I usually depict, with those characteristics, without imagining that I would end up doing the film because he was not aware that I spoke French. When my parents separated, in Argentina, we moved with my mother to the north of New York state, on the border with Canada. I learned it there, listening on the radio to the Montreal Canadiens games, who shared San Lorenzo's colours, my soccer team. They invited me to a celebration and I introduced one of their ice hockey stars in French. The producer saw that interview and asked me if I could do the film. I told him it wasn't impossible, although I would have to work on the Algerian accent. I had read Camus´ The Stranger, the play Caligula, but I had forgotten this story. Reading it, I remembered it immediately, and I loved the adaptation David had done. It was very true, not only to Camus´work, but to the author himself, his way of thinking, his humanism, paying a lot of attention to his time as a journalist in the Thirties, when while living in Algeria, he wrote articles about injustice toward the Arab people, the Berber population. I also had to learn Arabic. And Spanish with a certain accent, because Camus spoke it; his mother was from Minorca, although he refused to visit the country during the Franco period and then he could never do it. Camus said that Spain and the Civil War had taught him that those who are right can be defeated, and that courage is not always rewarded. He believed that Spain, France and Italy shouldn't have borders, that they were a common country.

In these times of conflicts over immigration, were you seeking to encourage a greater understanding of the reality in the Maghreb?

Not in a conscious way, although you can read that and other things [in it], the political and social conflicts. What I liked about the script and the story, the difference from other films about that war, its roots and consequences, is that it wasn't an ideological film. That context is taken into account, but the film is about dislocation, both of my character, Daru, and Mohammed, because both were born in the same area. At the beginning you think they are very different, that they can never be friends, but you gradually understand that they are not so different. It's an unexpected friendship, beautiful and believable, that blossoms in an organic way. This is unusual in the films about the Algerian war. There's a very nice dialogue towards the end, when he speaks about his childhood for the first time. When Mohammed tells Daru that he is French and Daru answers that his family immigrated from Andalusia. Working in the fields, doing the hardest jobs, they were seen by the French as Arabs, whereas now the Arabs take them to be French. We always come out losing, we don't have an identity, we aren't located in the country, in the landscape. The essence of the film is captured there, in that dislocation. Because Mohammed sees him as white and the oppressor, until he understands that they have something in common, since he's also been marginalized.

It's an intense story between two taciturn characters, confronted by a vast landscape, almost a Western…

The choice to photograph the landscapes in that way, so wide, gave an epic tone to the film, but it also makes us see the characters with new eyes; it makes them more fragile. You get to see how they come together, you want them to come together, because they need to come together, against their enemies who are stalking them and against the landscape that is tough, enormous.

I associate you with ambiguous characters, bad men that are good and vice versa, as in Good or A History of Violence. It's a quality that ultimately defines us all.

Yes, I think that everyone has internal conflicts, secrets. The palest, uninteresting nun has secrets, desires, a dark side, some conflict in her mind, her soul. When I read a script, and it's something that I've done since I began as an actor, the character doesn't matter to me. It can be written in a way, it can show up in a scene, a sentence, but it seems to define a particular kind of person. So, my first question is, "When is he not like that?" Looking for contradictions. In this script, they are obviously there; they emerge little by little, contradictions or secrets, reasons that explain the way he is. Why is he so terse? Why doesn't he speak or show his feelings? Why does he say nothing about his life? And the same thing could be said of Mohammed. They are two men who don't talk about their personal lives, much less what they feel. They do it little by little, in a fragmented way, but that's how the most solid friendships are forged, when it takes a lot to know someone. If he tells you about his life right after he meets you, just to get to know you, because he's drunk or whatever, friendship can also emerge, but it's most firmly fixed when there's difficulty. It's like with a dog or a horse. He resists, he won't let you, you have to give in, to give something in exchange. Respect, dignity, allowing him his space. Later, when the friendship solidifies, you can say to him, "Remember when we met five years ago? What a son of a bitch you were. You told me nothing."

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtrack is organically integrated into the film. Their music avoids illustrating the images in order to penetrate into the very fabric of the story.

Like the music of The Road. Although there was a problem in that one. Recently I took part in a Q & A in Denmark with Warren Ellis; he was there on tour with Nick Cave. They told him that the screening ended at midnight and, when he found out that I was there, he came despite having to travel the next day. I arrived from the hotel and there he was. We sat in front of the audience and began talking about our things, a very interesting conversation about what the actor feels when finally listening to the soundtrack because he normally doesn't hear it during the shoot. I've made some films where they played the music while we were shooting, but it's not a normal thing, because, in general, it hasn't yet been composed or recorded. I answered that there are almost always moments, no matter how good the soundtrack is, where I wonder why they put music there. Don't they trust the viewer that they have to underline that - well now he´s sad, or now there´s danger or I don't know what else? It's excessive. And, to tell the truth, with Ellis and Cave's work, as much in The Road as in this one, I felt that the music, very subtle, was there when it was needed. It's integrated into the visual landscape of the film and the sound of the dialogue. It works very well; you are not conscious of it. And when it's playing, you appreciate it. Ellis told me that in The Road, they were pressured to give it a sentimental touch in the final scenes. I didn't like it, and he didn't either. Warren told me that working with David Oelhoffen was great, because he knew what he wanted and avoided exaggeration. He was pushing them towards what they were feeling. It was a good collaboration; it's a beautiful soundtrack. David didn't want anything topical, with Algerian instruments, which was also feasible. What Cave and Ellis did is something else, tonalities that could be from there, but with other instruments, other ideas. Something different that brings on the emotional journey.

You have recorded CDs on the piano, with the guitar player Buckethead, but your tastes are eclectic, from classical music to alternative rock. Do you still have those first LPs you bought as a young man, by Grand Funk Railroad and David Bowie?

Yes, yes, I´ve got them. And music is like cinema; I like a little bit of everything. The same happens with the scripts I read. I don't differentiate them by budget, nationality or genre; I look for stories that I'd like to see on the screen, projects where I can learn something. And the same with music. Like many people, I find links between classical and jazz, or blues, punk. There are links and they can be found; one can feel the same about two different kinds of music. And it happens that, some things from the past you didn't like or seemed superficial to you, now you enjoy them. In time that's what happens. Also with some films, because they are badly distributed or because they don't fit with the cultural moment and they don't work, they are not appreciated. But with time they become jewels; you even recall that you thought it was nothing special when you saw it, and now you see it in another context and it has value.

You are a poet, musician, photographer, publisher, actor, painter... Haven't you ever felt the impulse at some point to gather everything together and make a movie yourself?

Yes, yes... I've been thinking about it for a long time. Twenty years ago I wrote a script that takes place in Denmark. I managed to get a little money, but in the end, I didn't do it. A couple of months ago, I finished another script; I want to do it, and it seems that it´s possible. When I finished it, things happened in my family and to distract myself or to bear what I was living through, without planning to, I turned to writing one scene after another and it came out of me very quickly. In a few weeks, I had it ready. I think that I am going to direct that script. It's simpler, easier to do, less costly. But if I do it, I have to get completely involved in it. I've seen David Cronenberg work and other great directors that are great because they concentrate. I can wait a couple of years or more, re-write it, do the casting and find a good crew to shoot it reliably. At all times, you have to be very conscious of the project and what it requires. I can't keep up my pace. I publish books, do poetry lectures, record music; I am all over the place with my two families, my travels. So yeah, I'm going to direct; I like photography, actors, cinema.

© Ruta 66. Images © One World Films.

Viggo Mortensen: “Camus has the ability to plunge into the grey areas"

Many thanks to Ollie and Zoe for translating the interview from ABC's Hoy Cinema from when Viggo was promoting Far From Men ahead of its release in Spain:
'Loin des Hommes' promotion, Madrid - 30 September 2015
'Loin des Hommes' promotion, Madrid - 30 ….
© ABC.
Viggo Mortensen has fully placed himself in Albert Camus' shoes in this adaptation of his story, "The Guest," that the French director David Oelhoffen has titled Far from Men. Mortensen talks to us about the movie and his current life in Madrid, where he's been living for some time.

You are an admirer of Albert Camus, so we can assume that was crucial for you to get involved in the project.

Yes, I began reading him quite young and I've always admired him, not only as a writer but as a philosopher. He has a great ability to plunge into grey areas, seeking the truth in every situation, without ideological shadings, across borders, which is something that happens in this film.

A lot has been said about the photography in this film.

It's beautiful how David positions us on camera. Some enormous landscapes where we see ourselves as tiny things, like ants, in very hostile territory at times. Visually it gives you the message that we are equals, the tiniest little things of no consequence in the world. The two characters have nothing in common in religion, culture or origin, but with that visualization you realize that none of that matters.

Another message the film conveys is that it's difficult to be a good person in the middle of a war.

Very difficult. Camus talks about exactly that. There are no answers for everything but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying to find them. Both of them are making decisions at the same time that they are evolving. Here there's no good or bad, but rather grey areas. My character thinks that he knows the other and that no one can tell him who he is. And the other character thinks the same about him. In the end, they come to realize that there are nuances and that the prejudices we have always collapse when we listen to each other.

Your character is quite complex.

He's lived with the ugly side of people and has decided to distance himself from everything - violence, corruption, conflict, the evil side of things. He wants to do good, teaching Arab children to read. I understand that impulse, but no one can flee forever because life is finally going to seek us out.

There are horses in the film. Are you still buying the ones that are in your shoots?

Not anymore, although it's true that this shoot had some beautiful horses.

And what have you done with the others?

The first one, that I filmed with fifteen years ago now, got old and died. The other two I gave to some friends.

Are you adapting well to life in Madrid? It seems as though Barcelona fits you better.

I'm adapting well. What happens there is that being with all the tourism every day of the year, I don't know… I know that it's good for the city's economy but for me, it gets a little overwhelming. In Madrid, I can walk and be quieter. In Barcelona, it's different because they also know that I'm for Real Madrid... There's an issue there. (Smiles)

Are you continuing with poetry?

Yes, I write, but above all I publish books by photographers, poets, sociologists…

Are you still painting?

A little. I do drawings in notebooks that I sometimes reproduce in some book. Now I'm preparing a new book of photos.

And what about [Real] Madrid? In spite of the distance you were among the first to realize the Mourinho fiasco.

It was terrible to see how he destroyed the team and the club. The harm he caused dividing the fans still lives on. And the thing about Casillas has been tremendous. I still don't understand how he could survive the persecution he suffered. And the way he left the club, especially if we compare it with Xavi when he left Barça.

Tell me about that experience in León when you went to the villages in the mountains to perfect your Spanish for the filming of Alatriste.

That was interesting. We were taking a fencing class, and on the weekends, I would get away to the villages in the mountains of León, specifically to the Corueño valley. They are very private there and it suited me because I thought that Alatriste was like them. I went into a bar to eat cecina [tr. note: salted dry meat]. I asked for some tomatoes and they curtly told me, "It´s not the season." I sat down on a stool and nobody said a word to me. Stubborn people, I thought, but since I am too, I went back the next day and nothing, not a peep. They must have thought, there he is again that guiri [tr. note: a Spanish idiom for "tourist."]... I went back the third day and they told me to get close to the fireplace. It was so cold… In the end, they gave me two medals for parading León´s name around the world. They are great people. I learned a lot from that experience.

What projects do you have now?

I´m finishing editing some books and I've made a movie in the United States, the first one I've made there in several years. It's this kind of movie, independent cinema. It´s called Captain Fantastic, which I know sounds like Marvel but it has nothing to do with it. The title is ironic. It's about a father with six children, and they live isolated from the world in a forest without phones, without electricity, where the children learn a lot of languages, know how to hunt, how to farm, they read a lot, they know about everything, but what they don't know is how to behave with other people. The truth is that it's something that as a father I had not thought about it until now. It´s a very interesting movie.

© Diario ABC, S.L.. Images © ABC.

Far From Men Presentation in Madrid

Source: Institut Français.
Found By: Chrissie & Iolanthe
Many thanks to Chrissie and Iolanthe for bringing us these images from last night's presentation of Lejos de los Hombres at the Institut Français in Madrid:

Images © Institut Français.

Videoclip from Palestine

Source: YouTube.
Found By: Chrissie
Chrissie brings us this brief videoclip from the Wattan News Agency about the Franco Arab Film Festival - Viggo appears around the three minute mark:

Ramallah Report

Source: ANSAmed .
Found By: Chrissie

Thanks to Chrissie for bringing us this one about the presentation in Ramallah on 18th November.


Viggo Mortensen promotes 'Loin des Hommes' in Ramallah

© One World Films.
by Michele Monni

RAMALLAH - From the 'Middle Earth' of the Lord of the Rings to the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Viggo Mortensen, an international star of Danish origins, has arrived in the West Bank to promote 'Loin des Hommes' ('Far from Men').

The film was presented at the 2014 Venice Film Festival and was inspired by French-Algerian existentialist author Albert Camus's short story 'The Guest'. The story takes place among Algeria's Atlas Mountains, where a 'pied noir' - French citizen but born in Algeria - named Daru (played by Mortensen) works as a schoolteacher in a nearby village. The year is 1954, the Algerian revolt against the French colonial state has started and Daru is suffering from a dilemma. He has been entrusted with a shepherd that he is supposed to hand over to the authorities after being accused of killing his cousin. If he does not do it, the victim's parents will begin a feud against the family of Mohammad (played by Reda Kateb), who reluctantly accepts his destiny. A journey thus begins in which the two protagonists will begin to get to know one another and will debate the ethics of the choice: personal sacrifice or the death of loved ones. During the journey, the two will meet other pied noir and Daru's former fellow Algerian fighters - now rebels - who took part in the disastrous Italian campaign during WWII. There is also be a meeting with French soldiers accused of war crimes, to whom Daru will express his disappointment and through whom he will decide once and for all to cut the 'umbilical cord' of his links to France, to embrace a broadened concept of humanity not tied to ethnicity. These meetings will change their perspectives and their idea of relations with other human beings. The true protagonist of the film is the Atlas Mountains desert which not only gives a melancholic and introspective feel to the film, it also acts as a sort of metaphysical 'Western' backdrop, where the struggle against the harsh external landscape reflects a spiritual desolation in which the two protagonists' choice is made.

''I was inspired by 1950s' Westerns, the constant struggle between man and the elements, as well as the constant moral battle that they come up against in hostile territory,'' director David Oelhofen (son of a 'pied noir') said at the end of the Ramallah screening, accompanied by Mortensen. The film met with approval from the Palestinian public, though some - drawing a parallel between the French colonial project in Algeria and Israel's settlement policies in the West Bank - underscored that the representation of the ''settler'' Daru and of Mohammad was too ''Orientalist'': i.e. depicting white men's innate superiority over the local 'bon sauvage'. Mortensen himself, who used both French and Arabic in the film, sought to refute this type of criticism, calling the relationship between the two protagonists an ''educational journey in which two men not only become friends, they also come to accept their basic humanity, embracing their uncertain destiny with their heads high.'' The film was presented at the Festival du Film Franco-Arabe, organized by the French cultural institute in Ramallah , and will be screened alongside the other films from the festival in all major Palestinian cities.

© ANSAmed . Images © One World Films.

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Last edited: 18 March 2023 05:00:24