Viggo Mortensen finds himself caught between his two heritages in Far From Men, David Oelhoffen’s beautiful, melancholy drama about a French teacher named Daru (Mortensen) who runs a remote school amid the desolate mountains of his native Algeria circa 1954.
Daru’s tranquil existence is upended when he’s tasked by his former military brethren — now engaged in war with Algerian rebels seeking independence — with transporting an Arab man named Mohamed (Reda Kateb) to a far-off police station. Mohamed’s crime is murdering his cousin, though that soon becomes a secondary concern to Daru, who reluctantly takes up this mission and is promptly accosted by angry French farmers looking to use Mohamed as a scapegoat for their own grievances, and then is captured by Algerian forces led by one of Daru’s prior comrades.
Marked by images in which the two travelers are dwarfed by their imposing surroundings, as well as the sound of the wind scraping against the barren landscape, Far From Men crafts a haunting atmosphere of alienation for its story of outcasts forging an unlikely bond.
Its plotting is often a tad too plodding, but with the charismatic Mortensen exuding understated internal crisis (in a French- and Arabic-speaking role), Oelhoffen’s film proves a compelling portrait of individuals striving to cope with, and at least somewhat overcome, cultural dislocation.