Set in the early days of the Algerian War of Independence, Far From Men stars the masterful Viggo Mortensen in a movie that is more than a buddy film, more than a war film and more than a chase film. Based on a short story by Albert Camus, the movie begins with Daru (Mortensen) a school teacher whose deliberated and quiet life is at odds with the continuing breakdown of Algeria.
After a first warning from friends of the dangers he faces, Daru has a brief encounter with raiders. After that he is mysteriously entrusted with consigning a stranger to the nearest town to face trial. The reasons for him being tasked with this dangerous assignment to provide safe passage to a known criminal are not made clear at first. It isn’t until much later that those reasons are revealed being based on his past. It is then we start to understand the conflict he now faces.
With great reluctance and resignation, he shuts down his little school. He takes his prisoner Mohammed played by Reda Kateb on foot by road. As they begin, they quickly realise they have little chance of survival due to marauding raiders. Daru then chooses a route over the breathtaking yet desolate Algerian mountains.
During that journey, as they face rising violence both human and natural, both men reveal their past. Firstly, Daru whose racial background places him at odds with everyone involved in the conflict. Secondly, Mohammed who has concocted an unexpected plan of escape with the intent of indirectly saving his family.
With a journey punctuated by a rising violence that forebodes full-scale civil war, both men must pick a path to safety whilst not picking sides. Unfortunately, as they witness first-hand atrocities committed by both sides, this creates an ongoing unresolved conflict for both characters.
This is a film that cannot be watched superficially. It must be experienced through the eyes and hearts of the characters. It left me deeply affected by the story of a war that I knew little about. That then motivated me to find out more about a conflict which still continues to affect France and Africa.
The scenery was simply mesmerising. Panoramic shots of sunsets and sunrises, snow and rain, denuded mountains and stony deserts : so beautiful that I felt I was watching a travelogue. But not for long. I found myself led back to the characters and plot as the film leads to an unexpected and uncertain conclusion.
Thoroughly recommended. Thoroughly unforgettable.