FAR FROM MEN (LOIN DES HOMMES). Starring : Viggo Mortensen and Reda Kateb, with Vincent Martin and Yann Goven. Directed by David Delhoffen. Rated M (Mature themes and violence). 97 min.
This subtitled French film is based on "The Guest" by Albert Camus in Camus' 1957 collection of six short stories, titled "Exile and the Kingdom". It tells the story of two men who journey together in pursuit of their fate, and is set against the background of the 1954 Algerian war of independence against the French. The movie won the "Signis Award", and the "Interfilm Award for promoting Inter-religious Dialogue", at the 71st. Venice International Film Festival in 2014.
The film focuses on the relationship between two men: Daru (Viggo Mortensen), and Mohammed (Reda Kateb). Daru is a Christian, and he works as a French teacher in an isolated village school, set deep in the Atlas mountains, teaching reading to the children of goat-herding Algerian natives. Mohammed (Reda Kateb), is a young Arab man of Muslim belief, who has been arrested for killing his cousin, whose thieving threatened the survival of his family.
Mohammed turns up unexpectedly on Daru's doorstep one night in custody, and Daru is ordered by his commanding officer to escort Mohammed to a nearby town to stand trial, which would result inevitably in Mohammed's execution. Mohammed spends the night in Daru's schoolhouse, as his "guest" rather than his prisoner. Daru does not want to take responsibility for Mohammed, and he gives him the choice between being escorted to trial, or escaping to liberty. Mohammed refuses to flee. A choice is made by both men, and Daru and Mohammed set out on their journey together.
The two men are very different, culturally, spiritually, and psychologically. Daru is world-wise and weary, and has cut himself off from those around him in search of solitude, which he has pursued. Mohammed is younger, more religious, and less experienced in life, and he is willing to do whatever he can to protect his family, even to the point of giving up his life for them.
The film depicts the journey of two men, who make personal choices of very different kinds. It presents an intriguing and philosophical analysis of choice and consequence, as the two men travel across the forbidding and hostile Algerian terrain in search of their chosen destiny. Strangers at first, they forge a close friendship, as their journey continues.
The acting in this film is superb. Kateb gives a wonderfully measured and under-stated performance as Mohammed, a man driven by fate and religious belief, who seeks execution so that vengeance will not be exacted by others against his family. Mortensen brilliantly takes the role of a man, compelled by solitude to look for resolution of things that have happened to him in his past. The cultural and spiritual differences between the two men are readily apparent. Mohammed washes his hands before dinner, for example, while Daru makes the sign of the cross. Daru thinks at first that Mohammed lacks courage, but Mohammed wants the death penalty, so that his family can avoid the money required by the laws of vengeance, practiced traditionally in his village.
This is an extraordinarily powerful and moving film that explores intentionally and explicitly specific moral choices. Daru refuses to be responsible for escorting Mohammed to his death, yet he decides to defend a self-confessed murderer. Mohammed does everything, even killing another person, to protect his family, but a journey such as the one he is on gives him the chance to prove that he is a person of courage. When Daru gives Mohammed the choice of turning himself in, or escaping to freedom, Daru doesn't understand Mohammed's choice. To him, Mohammed is rejecting a solution he thinks he should take.
The photography is stunning. We are shown barren, wind-swept landscapes, rugged jagged- mountains, and arid desert sands. The environment highlights the ethical dilemmas that the two main characters face in their journey. Its size and grandeur, in particular, serve dramatically to emphasise the absurdity of what happens to Daru and Mohammed along the way.
This is a movie about two men, who make specific moral choices which affect their lives and relationships. Under the expert direction of David Delhoffen, the movie magnificently conveys moral messages of great strength: revenge is wrong, loyalty is important, war will push people to behave immorally, and people from different cultures should be treated with dignity and respect.
This is a film not to be missed.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released July 30th., 2015