Goteberg Film Festival 2015: Far From Men is a sweeping but intimate epic

Source: Vérité Magazine

Image Michael Crotto.
© One World Films.
A two-man existential trek of bold ideas, David Oelhoffen's Far From Men (Loin des hommes) is a vigorous but melancholic examination of the Algerian War. Inspired and adapted from Albert Camus' short story 'The Guest', Oelhoffen's interpretation of the famed writer is a poetically compelling parable, dissecting the absurdity and cost of war, totalled not only in lives lost, but a bastardised national identity.

Far From Men's striking photography poignantly and ironically points out the power of a landscape much greater than the two men traversing across it, a power largely derived from an in-the-moment authenticity of time and place. Casting a judgementally cynical eye over the folly of war, Far From Men becomes a miniature epic, sweeping but intimate.

Set at the height of the Algerian war, Daru (Viggo Mortensen), an Algerian-born Frenchmen, spends most of his time educating children from the surrounding villages close to his isolated school in the Atlas Mountains. Once a Major in the French army, his peace is tenuous, for his ties to the military have not been fully cut. Daru's quiet lifestyle is disrupted by an army official who turns up on his door one day with a prisoner of war in tow, ordering that he escort this man named Mohammed (Reda Kateb) to the correct authorities to be put on trial for the murder of his cousin. Initially resistant to the task due to his new ethical stance on death sentences, Daru takes his marching orders and sets off with his charge across the mountains of war-torn Algeria.

Whether it's political leanings, religious beliefs, or violent oppression, wars are fought for many reasons, but ultimately the land underneath the soldier's feet is the thing being fought for. And yet, what never seems to be discussed is the land's indifference to any of these human atrocities. Oelhoffen's gorgeously captured Moroccan scenery (standing in for Algeria) imbues the billion-year-old terrain with the folly and insignificance of human conflict in the larger scale of existence on earth. In long shot after long shot, we watch Daru and his prisoner trudge through dusty, desolate vistas framed with Leone-esque gargantuanism, their insect-sized forms are slowly engulfed by the road travelled. The sustained atmosphere of dead calm is a humbling and haunting experience but, as Daru and Mohammed develop an unusual kinship, Oelhoffen's message soaks into the porous rocks all around them: humanity's ego is the true villain of war.

At one point Mohammed is granted his freedom by Daru but still chooses to face judgement. It is through his captive's selflessness and thoughts on war, that Daru discovers the importance of sacrifice and comes to the realisation that he must leave Algeria in order to be safe. These epiphanies register with powerful quietude on Mortensen's face, its own landscape into which all the complexities of his character are etched as well as larger ruminations on identity, heritage and violence. Viggo once again shows remarkable versatility, projecting all these emotions while speaking in French and Arabic throughout; two more languages to add to a growing collection of none-English speaking roles including the recent Jauja.

Far From Men contemplatively drifts without shying away from some of the more politically-fuelled aspects of the story, unafraid to penetrate a sensitive area of French-Algerian history. Oelhoffen's confidently composed writing is beautifully realised by equally impressive direction in this graciously weathered Western that's unassumingly gripping and refuses to let go.
Last edited: 14 February 2015 13:11:00
© Vérité Magazine.