Far From Men, based on a short story by the French- Algerian author Albert Camus’ called The Guest, is an insightful and timely film. The picture is set in post World War II Algeria, where the smouldering embers of the French Algerian war are starting to flicker to life and the loyalties of the region’s “Pied Noir” community, those born in Algeria of European ancestry, are tested to breaking point. In writer/director David Oelhoffen’s skilful hands, this beautifully crafted film highlights what happens when a once tightly knit community slowly starts to break apart, as Algeria takes its first tortuous steps toward independence.
Set during 1954, at the start of Algeria’s eight year war of Independence, Far From Men, its French title Loin des Hommes, focuses on the developing relationship between its two central character Daru, played by international star Viggo Mortensen and Mohamed played by rising Algeria/French actor Reda Kateb.
Daru is a widower, a former military officer who fought against the Germans in WWII and has now returned to his homeland in order to rebuild his life and to teach children from the local rural community.
For him fighting in the war was the price he felt he had to pay to keep his homeland safe but now he wants to live a life free from violence and hopes simply to find peace.
However, the tranquil world he created is shattered once French officials arrive at his door with an Algerian prisoner. The French demand Dara escort the prisoner – who has already confessed to the murder of his cousin – to a local fort, where, it is assumed, he will be tried and executed.
Daru initially refuses on the grounds that he will be escorting the man to his death but after relatives of the dead cousin attack Daru’s home, he has little chose but to go.
After scribbling a touching note for the children he teaches telling them he will return shortly, Dara and his prisoner start their perilous journey across a country already in the grips of a civil war.
This stunning film examines the theme of loyalty and patriotism, both that of its native inhabitants and also those who emerged as a result of its colonial past. Both groups were born in Algeria and, as the film points out, have a right to call it their home.
When asked in a recent interview if the Algerian war is still as sensitive a subject in France as it once, the star of the film, Viggo Mortensen, responded: “This story takes no sides, which is hard to do when it’s about the Algerian war. It shows a bit of the horror, the excesses on both sides, and the problem of meeting someone in the middle. It’s a hard thing to do and people are averse to it most of the time. It is a story (though) that shows how people can overcome prejudices they didn’t even know they had. Both men have to make an effort to understand something they thought they already knew and in the end realise that they are more alike than they are different.
“Daru has a real relationship with the Arabic community but he is distrusted by the French because of that. Meanwhile, for that community, he is also a colonizer who teaches the children about the rivers and mountains of France and the French language.
“After the war, he tries to get away from politics, going into the mountains, far from everything and trying to do positive things. But politics catch up with him, war comes to him as it does to everyone else in his community.
“The story has great relevance when you think about what’s going on today. People are so distracted by their own small lives that they don’t want to think about the larger, serious unanswered problems and questions. But sometimes they come and find you.”
The character of Daru is a man who in a chaotic world has finally found a degree of peace which he tries to guard by ignoring the world outside his door, until that same world bursts in allowing him no time to turn away.
Far From Men departs from the original Camus short story, a point the film’s director, David Oelhoffen, is swift to make. “I had to invent a lot. I read all of Camus, his journalism, everything he wrote about Algeria, where he lived until he was in his twenties. His book The Guest was set before the war, but I decided I would set the film at the beginning of the conflict.“From the start, I felt it could be a universal story rather than a French story.”
At it’s core Far From Men is very much a portrait of the changing relationship between the two men at the heart of the story. As the story unfolds we see how each man has an enormous impact on the life of the other. The film shows how difficult it is to see someone else as part of ‘the other’ once you know them personally and have had a glimpse into their lives.
It’s perhaps ironic that given the painful history between the two countries and the fact that the film’s director is French, Far From Men has been most warmly welcomed in Algeria where audiences seem to there realise that at its core, Far From Men is simply a story about two strangers who learn to respect each other.