Far from Men (Loin des hommes) (2015)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on April 18, 2015 @ tonymacklin.net.

A movie based on an Albert Camus story. Now that's existential.

In Far from Men (Loin des hommes), French writer/director David Oelhoffen enhances a spare Camus short story originally titled "The Guest," published in the short story collection Exile and the Kingdom in 1957.

Far from Men has the alienation and angst of the master French philosopher and Nobel-prize winning author. It has the palpable sense of dread, but Oelhoffen adds action, violence, and further human dimension to the Camus story.

Far from Men is set in Algeria in 1954, at the beginning of the 8-year conflict between Algerians fighting for independence and the French, who had occupied Algeria for 132 years.

But the focus of the story and the film is on two men not involved in the conflict.

Far from Men is the story of Daru (Viggo Mortensen) and Mohamed (Reda Kateb) and their evolving relationship, far beyond the original story.

Daru is a non-Arab raised in Algeria. His Spanish parents died there. Camus - who was born in Algeria - writes, "But Daru had been born here. Anywhere else, he felt exiled."

In the film, Daru says, "For the Arabs, we were French. And now for the French, we're Arabs."

Daru and Mohamed are flung together when local gendarme Balducci (Vincent Martin) brings Mohamed, a captive Arab, to local school teacher Daru. Daru lives next to a classroom, in a remote schoolhouse, in which he teaches young children to read.

Balducci has orders that Daru should take the Arab to police in Tinguit for trial and execution. Mohamed killed a cousin who was stealing grain from Mohamed's family. Mohamed killed him to save his family, but custom demands vengeance.

Daru protests his assignment, but Balducci leaves. Daru decides to take Mohamed to his fate. On their torturous trek, the two men create a bond.

The two men have different ethnicities and different religions, but they share decency and a sense of responsibility in a cruel world. Both are guardedly earnest. But they try to understand each other.

In the film, Catholic Daru's last words to Muslim Mohamed are from the Koran.

Multi-lingual Viggo Mortensen makes a solidly subtle Daru, trying to avoid war and conflict. Daru was a major in the Italian campaign in WWII, and in the film he comes in contact with former soldiers with whom he served. But he is committed to staying out of the war in Algeria. Daru has found his cause in education - teaching children. But the chaos of the world is all around him.

Reda Kateb conveys the battered spirit of Mohamed, who - like Daru - under duress is trying to retain his humanity.

David Oelhoffen creates a film of scope and space. Although Far from Men is set in Algeria, it was evocatively photographed by Guillaume Deffontaines in Morocco. Camus might enjoy that ironic displacement.

The locale is an essential character. It is rugged, stony, barren terrain. Mountainous and rocky. Men are small figures.

Oelhoffen emphasizes sound: the crackle of a fire, trudging footfalls on gravel, splashing heavy rain, the clank of a canteen, wind rushing. He is aided in his creative soundtrack by the music of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Far from Men is relevant today. It has crucial reverberations from the past.

Far from Men brings back personal memories for me.

Many years ago I oversaw a successful film series, sponsored by the newspaper for which I was film reviewer.

I scheduled The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo's dazzling film with a score by Ennio Morricone. In Sight & Sound, it has been rated by Tim Robbins as one of the ten best films ever made.

A few days after the showing, the editor said the paper was going to do the scheduling in the future instead of me.

It was obvious he had gotten complaints from one of those freedom-for-us-but-nobody-else groups. Almost everybody who professes the concept of "Liberty" doesn't believe in it for others. Entitlement is so much better.

I responded in my Anglo-Saxon voice. And was fired.

And I was not even in the Middle East. I was in Middle America. Ah, liberty.

Far from Men reminds me of The Battle of Algiers.

I think it's a film worth getting fired over.

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