Far From Men (Loin des hommes)
IT could be argued that Bone Tomahawk was not the only Western to feature in this year’s Inverness Film Festival.
Based on a short story by existentialist philosopher and author Albert Camus, director David Oelhoffen luxuriates in the rugged beauty of Algeria’s Atlas Mountains as much as John Ford’s Westerns soaked up the beauty of Monument Valley.
Stripped to its bare bones, a non-lawman has to escort a prisoner to jail through hostile territory, the plot seems a close cousin of Elmore Leonard classic 3.10 To Yuma, and for all that this is set in the 1950s, journeys are made by foot or on horseback.
Daru (Viggo Mortensen) is a widowed teacher seemingly content in his isolated school teaching young Berber children to read. The last thing he wants to do is take a self-confessed murderer (Reda Kateb) to the nearest police barracks and his inevitable execution.
What surprises him is that Mohammed is willing to go, despite being offered the opportunity to escape and so Daru has little choice but to take him and face dangers from the murder victim’s vengeful relations and the pro-independence guerrillas who find refuge in the hills.
Broadening out Camus’s original story allows Oelhoffen to put the story within its political context.
Daru believes himself as much an Algerian as his Arab and Berber neighbours — it turns out that his family are not even French — but finds himself on opposite sides from the men who fought with him for French freedom in World War II.
Danish-American actor Mortensen, no stranger to epic cinematic journeys, acting here in fluent French and even Arabic is a natural fit for the tough and moral teacher faced with a situation he never wanted to be a part of, while Kateh also impresses as the prisoner whose apparent meekness hides a terrible moral choice of his own.
What happens? Algeria 1954. With the French authorities under pressure from pro-independence rebels, a school-teacher (Viggo Mortensen) is co-opted to take a strangely compliant murderer (Reda Kateb) to prison and execution.
Best quote: Daru (after Mohammed admits he has never made love to a woman): "I can’t help you."
Who for: Any fans of French cinema — and shouldn’t we all be? While the source material brings some intellectual weight, it also mixes in adventure and bromance for an accessible couple of hours for those of us who can’t tell our Camus from our Sartre.
Quick review: Dramatic North African landscapes and a country lurching towards war form the backdrop to an engrossing personal story of two men’s physical and emotional journey towards a decision that could cost or save a life.