Prize Laureate Albert Camus is associated with existentialism, but he was
really a determined foe of all totalitarian “isms.” He is also closely linked
to his Algerian birthplace, with good reason. In addition to his celebrated
novels The Plague, The Stranger, and the posthumously published
but still quite good The First Man,
Camus’s most anthologized short story, “The Guest,” is also set in Algeria.
Screen-writer-director David Oelhoffen thoughtfully but not entirely faithfully
adapts Camus’s story as Far from Men (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York, following its U.S. premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.
is a former military officer trying to make amends for his mysterious past by
serving as a school teacher in a remote village. The meditative life seems to
suit him, but it will be rudely interrupted by Balducci, the gendarme. Whether
he wants to or not, Daru has been tasked with escorting Balducci’s Algerian
prisoner to the nearest French outpost in Tinguit, where he will likely be
executed. That night, Daru makes it clear to the man named Mohamed, he is
welcome to escape at any time. However, the admitted murder seems perversely intent
of facing French justice. He does indeed have his reasons, which constitute
some unusually smart writing on Oelhoffen’s part.
Mohamed family did not have the blood money to buy peace after he justifiably
killed his cousin. As a result, Daru will find himself in the middle of an
intra-family feud, as well as increasingly violent uprising led by many of his
former Algerian army colleagues. Fortunately, Daru is a crack shot with a
rifle, because he will have to shoot his way out of a lot of trouble.
Oelhoffen trades the icy cold irony of the Camus story for the tragic sweep of
a revisionist Algerian western. Cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines fully
exploits the craggy terrain’s epic big sky country possibilities. After playing
the Gloomy Gus in self-consciously arty films like Jauja and Everybody has a Plan, Viggo Mortensen finally finds the right vehicle for his simmering
tough guy intensity. It also further burnishes his polyglot chops, this time
showcasing him in French. Reda Ketab’s performance as Mohamed is almost too impassive
as Mohamed, but it still sort of works for a pseudo western, in the moody
Anthony Mann tradition.
from Men is exactly the kind of film the pretentious Jauja should have been, but so wasn’t. It critically engages with a
lot of hot button issues, including colonialism and tribalism, but never at the
expense of its lean and mean narrative. Visually striking and tightly
disciplined, Far from Men is
recommended for fans of Mortensen and historical drama when it opens this
Friday (5/1) in New York at the Cinema Village, following hard on the heels of
its well-received screenings at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Albert Camus, French Cinema, Tribeca '15, Viggo Mortensen