Far From Men ( Loin des hommes )

Directed by David Oelhoffen
Starring Viggo Mortensen and Reda Kateb
Screening at BFI London Film Festival October 18th, 2014

by Ruth Thomson (reviewed at the 71st Venice Film Festival)

In writer/director David Oelhofffen’s Loin des hommes (Far from Men), Viggo Mortensen (speaking convincing French) plays Daru, a teacher in a small village school in the Algerian mountains who has formerly seen military service. The year is 1954 and colonial conflict is imminent as Algeria begins its struggle for independence. Trouble arrives in Daru’s peaceful existence in the form of Mohamed (Reda Kateb), a young man from a neighboring village who has killed his cousin and is to be taken to Tinguit for trial by the ruling French authorities. After initial reluctance to be involved, Daru sets out on this journey with Mohamed, as the only alternative is to let him go on alone and unarmed to a certain death.

As their journey progresses so too does their relationship and we learn that Mohamed’s crime was only committed out of the necessity to protect and feed his own family. He now faces death at the hands of his cousins, which would then require his young brothers to take revenge in keeping with their local customs. In order to prevent these multiple deaths, his only solution is to get to Tinguit and surrender to his execution. Along the way, the two men fall in with Algerian rebels amongst whom are former colleagues of Daru’s – old friends now seemingly on opposite sides of this new conflict despite Daru’s attempted neutrality. The lead characters evolve gently thanks to two quietly moving performances – Mohamed’s youth and naivety are most evident when he asks the older man what it feels like to sleep with a woman – he knows that he will die without first-hand experience. Daru’s increasing protectiveness of Mohamed is subtly conveyed, as is his ambiguous identity: though only twenty miles from his birthplace, his Spanish parents caused the French to see him as an Arab, whilst the Arabs see him as French.

Early in the film, Daru chastises Mohamed for having no courage or honour, both of which ultimately run deep in the protagonists as they journey together and finally face the choice of dying for honour or living with courage.

Based on the Albert Camus short story ‘L’Hote’ (which can be translated as both ‘The Guest’ and ‘The Host’), Loins des hommes is a western, a buddy movie, an action adventure, and a relationship drama all rolled in to one: but most of all it’s a beautifully told and deeply moving story. With an evocative ambient score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and stunning cinematography by Guillaume Deffontaines, it takes us back in time to a distant uprising in North Africa whilst reminding us of the moral ambiguities and questions of identity that infuse so many current conflicts.

Far From Men: Warren Ellis & Nick CaveComposers Warren Ellis & Nick Cave

Far From Men: Viggo MortensenViggo Mortensen

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