Our most cinephilic francophiles head to the 2015 Melbourne French Film Festival. These are their reviews.
We continue our Melbourne French Film Festival Review Series with our guest blogger Justina, and her review of David Oelhoffen’s 2015 film Far From Men (Loin des hommes).
Based on Albert Camus’ short story “L’hôte” (The Guest), Far from Men is an exploration of one man’s morality and humanism in the early days of the Algerian War of Independence.
Daru is a village school teacher in the remote Atlas Mountains. His solitude is interrupted by the arrival of the local policeman who charges him with a prisoner, Mohammed, he is to escort to a neighbouring town. At first refusing to lead a man to certain death, Daru’s hand is forced and so begins their metaphorical and literal journey through the barren and desolate landscape.
Director David Oelhoffen beautifully captures the tone of Camus’ sparse text, respecting the silences as well as the complexity of each character. Thankfully Oelhoffen stops short of moralising, giving neither judgement nor reason for Daru’s actions. Although pressure mounts for Daru to align his loyalties, neither side are depicted as angels, instead they are all merely men who have come to their own less than perfect conclusions.
The dialogue, a mixture of Arabic and accented French, is kept to a minimum. In its place, long sweeping shots of the barren Algerian desert are employed to slowly build the tension. This is aided by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ ever present soundtrack, at times overbearing and detracting from the stillness of the visuals.
Some of the ambiguity in the text is fleshed out, for example Mohammed’s constant insistence on remaining a prisoner is explained. A friendship slowly develops between the two men, through small gestures and an unspoken loyalty. Daru treads a fine line as a man perceived by both the Arabs and the French as an outsider yet one who maintains his place among both. We uncover slivers of his past – his time as a French Army soldier, his wedding in Algiers, his parents’ Andalusian origins. Questions of identity and belonging are raised, however, ultimately the solitary individual remains just that: detached and alone in the shadow of much bigger forces. Even the depictions of nature and the natural landscape are hostile and unwelcoming; shelter from a sudden downpour is as elusive as a promise by an ex-army friend turned rebel to spare their lives.
Viggo Mortensen almost single-handedly carries the film as Daru. Although we long for a hero, Mortensen’s Daru doesn’t attempt to be any more than a man no different from those he comes against. Reda Kateb depicts Mohammed with great restraint, slowly revealing a character trapped between honour and the law.
Far from Men is a thought provoking film that revels in unfurling the grey areas that lie between freedom and identity, courage and honour, ultimately life and death.
Catch Far From Men at the festival here.
By Justina Lui.