Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TIFF 2104: Far From Men

Viggo Mortensen as the teacher Daru in Algeria
Far from Men (France, 2014) directed by David Oelhoffen, 110 minutes, TIFF, 9a 

Far from Men is based on the Algerian writer Albert Camus' short story "The Guest". Daru, a teacher, portrayed by the multi-talented Viggo Mortensen speaking French fluently here, is commanded by the local authorities to bring an Algerian villager named Mohamed (Reda Kateb) for prosecution to a neighboring town for the murder of his cousin. He initially refuses but then does so reluctantly.

It is 1954 and the beginning of the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962). Algerian rebels are attempting to remove the French colonists from the country. Daru, while born in Algeria and having lived in Algeria all his life, is of Spanish descent. He is considered neither French enough for the French nor Arab enough for the Arabs. He belongs nowhere and is treated as such. 

The screenplay by director David Oelhoffen beautifully supplements Camus' short story which is less
Viggo Mortensen
than fifteen pages long. Daru evolves from a reluctant and disapproving captor to understanding the tribal customs and history that Mohamed faces. Mohamed must surrender or his brothers will be killed by fellow villagers. If the French kill him, the blood debt is removed and his family will be spared.

Together they face the elements, literally crossing mountains to reach their destination, encountering roving bands of villagers who wish to kill Mohamed and rebels who take them as hostages. The landscape, shot in Morocco, is as barren and bleak as a moonscape.

When Daru learns the  circumstances which lead to the murder, Daru offers Mohamed possible freedom. He learns something else from his struggles to deliver the man to justice - Algeria must be for the Algerians and no matter how well meaning he is in teaching the children to read and write and giving them grain for food, he must eventually leave the country.

The most poignant scene is Daru bidding farewell to the children and delivering one last lesson - writing in Arabic rather than French and discussing African rather than European geography as he had at the beginning of the film. The end has come ... the French and Daru must leave as difficult as it may be.

TIFF of the day: Viggo Mortensen was at the Q&A after the screening - looking dapper and eager to answer questions from the audience. Gracious, funny and articulate - one wishes this small film gets the exposure it deserves.

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