Viggo Mortensen easily slips into his role as Daru in this French-language drama set in 1950s Algeria, helmed by David Oelhoffen.
Having said that, Mortensen, who served on the production team as well, is no stranger to foreign language films, having had a go on the Spanish-language Everybody has a Plan. His portrayal of Daru brings to flesh Albert Camus' protagonist from the short story The Guest. Daru is the son of Spanish immigrants to Algeria. He is a schoolmaster on the plateau, although his students are mostly Arabs. One day, the gendarme Balducci (Vincent Martin) entrusts to him an Arab prisoner, Mohamed (not named in Camus' short story, convincingly played by Reda Kateb), who is due to face trial for killing his cousin.
Initially, Daru wants no part of this, as his wish is to stay neutral, but is forced to accompany Mohamed to Tinguit as instructed, when Mohamed's kinsmen storm Daru's schoolhouse and trash it. En route, they are taken prisoner by rebels led by Slimane (Djemel Barek), an old friend of Daru. After Slimane's band are defeated by French troops led by Le Tellec (Nicolas Giraud), Daru and Mohamed are free to continue their way, stopping over in Béjaïa where Daru rekindles his old friendship with Senorita Martinez (Angela Molina).
Just outside Tinguit, Daru tells Mohamed he has the choice to either continue south into the city and turn himself in to the local police, or head east and join up with some nomads in the desert. This is where the film differs from the short story. At the climax of the film, Mohamed is shown heading away from the city while in The Guest, the prisoner ultimately decided to surrender to the authorities.
Two key themes are obvious in the film, as in the short story. Existentialism is ever-present, with Algeria in the throes of civil war and food in short supply. Accountability, in the case of Mohamed facing punishment for his cousin's death, is also mentioned. If he was not facing the French magistrate, he would still have to face tribal punishment, which could be far worse.
Originally, Daru had many parallels to Camus. However, in the film, Daru is portrayed as a Spaniard, and is scorned by both the French and the Arabs. He lives all by himself in the living quarters of the schoolhouse, away from civilisation, fitting in well with the title of this film.
Shot in Morocco, Far from Men captures the essence of life in remote corners of North Africa during the turbulent 1950s. Those who loved Casablanca might love this one. Great acting from Mortensen and Kateb.
Directed and written by: David Oelhoffen
Based on The Guest by Albert Camus
Produced by: Bénédicte Bellocq (The Transporter TV series), Olivier Charvet, Marc Du Pontavice, Florian Genetet-Morel, Matthew Gledhill, Souad Lamriki (The Transporter TV series), Romain Le Grand, Viggo Mortensen
Main Cast: Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings series), Reda Kateb (Zero Dark Thirty)