With its measured pacing, subtly revealing characterisations and rich historical contextualising, David Oelhoffen’s Far From Men (2015) powerfully evokes our common humanity without ever resorting to bluster or overstatement. This marvellous film is a moving examination of identity in a land where national pride can mean different things to different people. One man’s interpretation of nationality can jeopardise the life of another as humble Algerian village school teacher Daru (Viggo Mortensen) discovers when he’s lumbered with the task of transporting a man Mohamed (Reda Kateb) from a small village, accused of murdering his cousin, to French authorities. Despite the pretence of justice taking its course, Daru understands that he’ll he leading Mohamed to a brutal, inevitable demise.
In some senses this is a road film as the two men are tethered together against the backdrop of a harsh, unforgiving, war-torn landscape in Algeria in 1954. Daru’s roots are Spanish but he’s considered a local by the French and yet forever an outsider by the locals. Trapped in a wavering middle ground, he finds himself hamstrung by political perception as he and Mohamed weigh deeper into murky waters in which the threat of being set upon by various parties becomes more real with each passing hour.
Mohamed is suffering from his own internal turmoil; his fatal act is justified as a necessary means of survival against a grain-stealing cousin. But his other cousins want only retribution and the certainly of an endless blood feud beginning chases him through all of his sleeping and waking hours. There’s another group on their tail too, with a local positive that Mohamed is the same man whose been killing men in the vicinity. Daru believes otherwise and aims to get Mohamed to his detination to ensure he’s only prosecuted for the crime of which he is definitely guilty.
There are so many wonderful layers to Oelhoffen’s film which is actually based on a short story by Albert Camus. From innocuous beginnings the narrative soon begins to deepen as Daru and the initially silent Mohamed begin to compromise and open up to one another in order to survive. Quiet, contemplative moments are shot through with perilous encounters which, against their better judgement, strengthens their resolve. At one stage the pair faces certain death when captured by Algerian officers but evade disaster when Daru is offered to the advancing French as a hostage and the pair are spared in the wake of the subsequent slaughter.
The two main actors are remarkable. Mortensen continues to enhance his reputation of one of the finest practitioners of his craft. Moving between larger American roles and more interesting, artful European work, he’s never anything but magnetic and in the most effortless kind of way too, bringing fascinating shades of light and dark to every interpretation. He’s matched by the wonderful Kateb here as the guilt-racked Mohamed who is trapped between a rock and a hard place.
The resolution is sublime, regardless of how you might imagine it will end. The pair’s final scene together is full of tenderness and one of the most moving scenes in any film this year. There’s so much to admire about Far From Men, a film that comes awfully close to perfection. Oelhoffen’s screenplay is perhaps most remarkable in its determination to distil simple but emotionally wrought moments that capture the essence of our humanity into torturous moral choices. Refusing to trade, commendably, in easy solutions, it becomes a truthful, moving reflection of real life with all its ardour, despair, complexity and ambiguity.
Far From Men is now out on DVD through Madman Entertainment. HERE for full details.