BY RANIA RICHARDSON | In a spare tale that considers the futility of neutrality during wartime, writer/director David Oelhoffen’s “Far From Men” (Loin des Hommes) is an absorbing look at the nascent Algerian War for Independence in the 1950s. Daru (Viggo Mortensen), an Algerian-born Frenchman, and Mohamed (Reda Kateb), his Arab charge who is due to stand trial for murder, find themselves paired unwittingly for an expedition through the desolate French-occupied North African country.
Daru was a Major in the French army before turning to a reclusive life teaching language, history and geography to local Arab children in a one-room French school. In this conflict-laden environment, education could be the key to uplifting their young lives. Bound by ropes, Mohammed is brought to the schoolhouse by officials with orders that Daru must escort him to the authorities in Tinguit, where he will likely be sentenced to death. Daru’s resistance to the task marks his refusal to be implicated, until he is left with no choice. What could have been a straightforward journey through rugged terrain becomes a battle of wills and morals, as the two men attempt to act with honor based on codes from their own traditions.
Subtle but powerful performances by a steely Mortensen and a languid Kateb elevate the film, along with handsome cinematography by Guillaume Deffontaines and a minimalistic score by Nick Cave and his frequent collaborator, Warren Ellis. Mortensen, a well-known polyglot, speaks convincing French and Arabic. (In his recent turn in “Juaja,” we hear him speaking Spanish and Danish.)
Inspired by “The Guest,” a short story by Albert Camus, the tale examines the idea of “the other” through Daru’s background as a Pied-Noir or “Black-Foot,” denoting that he is of European ancestry, living in French North Africa — the background Camus himself had.
A Western of the international variety, “Far From Men” is the story of men in severe circumstances, with prostitutes the only women in a vast, dusty setting marked by violence and sacrifice, colonizers and indigenous peoples. Deliberately paced and slow to reveal itself, the film achieves its full impact during the final scenes, in which both men “trust in the Creator” and adhere to their convictions in personal ways.
Written & Directed by David Oelhoffen. In French with English subtitles. Runtime: 102 minutes. On 4/21, 8:30pm at SVA Theater (333 W. 23rd St. btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). On 4/24, 9:30pm & 4/25, 3:45pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St. btw. 7th & 8th Aves.). For tickets: $18 (plus $3.50 reservation fee), visit tribecafilm.com/festival or call 646-502-5296.