Far From Men
Set in Algeria in 1954 as the colonising French battle to hold power against the local revolutionary uprising, Viggo Mortensen’s benevolent school teacher is more concerned with teaching his young Algerian pupils to read than engaging in the conflict outside his door.
One day, the reluctant Daru is tasked with escorting a prisoner to another town to be tried for murder. If he refuses, he faces trouble of his own. And so, this pretty conventional narrative device sets off a pretty conventional rendering of a story which is solely predicated on a man doing right by a stranger in whom he has no investment. Yes, there should be more of this in the world around us – but haven’t we seen this all before?
Mortensen is an interesting casting choice – his fluent French is as comfortable as his Arabic, and few Hollywood stars are able to pare it down to look so ordinary in a cloth cap and rifle. Lovers of French cinema will enjoy seeing the familiar face but little-known Reda Kateb in a strong featured role.
But as the two men make their journey away from unkind men but towards compassion for each other, Far from Men feels much like any other odd-couple road trip. It is competently, sensitively handled, but doesn’t leave you feeling enlightened.