Far From Men

Set in 1954, against the backdrop of the Algerian Atlas mountains at the start of the French-Algerian War, and using elements from both the western and road movie genres, Far from Men (2014) by French director David Oelhofen explores the relationship between reclusive schoolteacher Daru (Viggo Mortensen) and Mohamed (Reda Kateb), a villager accused of murder.

Oelhofen also wrote the screenplay, based on the short story The Guest (1957) by Albert Camus. The original French title “L’Hôte” translates into both “the guest” and “the host”, which ties back to the shifting relationship between the main characters of the story. Camus uses this short tale to reflect upon issues raised by the political situation in Algeria, particularly the problem of neutrality in the colonial conflict.

Because of his affiliations with the local French community and French army, Daru is given the task of escorting Mohamed to a neighbouring town to be tried for murdering his nephew. As the Algerian Mohamed will face a French court, surrendering to the authorities will result in a death sentence, as class justice is prevalent in Algeria at that time.

In Camus’ original story Daru refuses his assignment, leaving the choice between accepting responsibility for his crime or freedom up to Mohamed. But when Mohamed decides to turn himself in, the local Algerian community still sees Daru as a French collaborator, subservient to the colonial oppressors.

Oelhofen infuses his film with a more overt political statement. He deviates from Camus’ story and makes Daru side with the Algerians. He escorts Mohamed while travelling to the authorities, a journey during which Daru even kills to protect Mohamed. As the two men become friends Daru persuades Mohamed not to turn himself in, even when the French will regard Daru’s actions as treason. Mohamed chooses freedom, seeking refuge with desert nomads. Daru travels back to his school to teach his Algerian pupils for the last time, after which he is forced to flee the French authorities.

Nevertheless, Far from Men is anything but an overtly political film. The film’s atmospheric soundtrack by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis perfectly underscores the film’s emotional core, while Guillaume Deffontaines’ spacious cinematography emphasizes Daru and Mohamed’s smallness in the vast surrounding landscape.
A visual metaphor for the way both men are swallowed up by a world that won’t let them be as they are.

Also, as is the case in many westerns, the landscape is pitted against the protagonists’ emotional and physical strength. Lastly, Daru and Mohamed’s journey through the Atlas mountains is a route where the geographical distance is commensurate to the emotional distance between the two men. A plot device often used in road movies, where a geographical journey is usually a metaphor for an emotional journey (i.e. from one state of being to another). The longer and farther Daru and Mohamed travel together, experiencing danger, hardship and camaraderie, the closer they grow emotionally. So even in a lonely landscape, Daru and Mohamed are never ‘far from men’, as they are always close to each other and themselves.

This Essay Recommendation article was published in August 2018