Algeria, 1954. While the rebellion rumbles in the valley, two very different men thrown together by a world in turmoil are forced to flee together across the Atlas Mountains. In the midst of an icy winter, Daru, the reclusive teacher, has to escort Mohamed, a villager accused of murder. Pursued by horsemen seeking summary justice and vengeful settlers, the two men decide to confront the unknown. Together they fight to gain their freedom.
Grounded by Mortensen’s fiercely understated French-language performance, a score by neo-Western masters ,,, and the beautifully stark backdrop of Algeria’s mountain ranges, director David Oelhoffen transplants a classic western tale into an unstable warzone to tell the story of one man’s sense of personal duty in light of the realities of the world around him.
At the Tribeca Film Festival 2015 we caught up with the film director David Oelhoffen to talk about the inspiration behind Far From Men, the adaptation of the short story The Guest by Albert Camus, working with the talented actors Viggo Mortensen and Reda Kateb and more. The film will screen at the Bow Tie Cinemas in Chelsea, on Friday, April 24th and Saturday, April 25th. The official theatrical release is May 1st, 2015.
To find more information on Far From Men at the TFF 2015 – here
The film is based on the short story The Guest by Albert Camus. What inspired you to tell this story?
Yes, the film is a free adaptation of the short story by Camus, a very short story, in fact, about 20 pages. The main inspiration was of The Guest as well as another text called Algerian Chronicles, which he wrote in the 30’s when he was a journalist in Algeria. He wrote a lot about the French colonization system and this helped me a lot to develop the short story. I had another connection, my father used to be a French school teacher in that area during the war so I think it was another kind of inspiration.
Was it challenging to adapt the Camus story to the film?
Yes, it was. Luckily it was a short story, so it was easier for me to develop the adaptation. If it wasn’t a short story, it is not possible to be true to the text and spirit. That was my challenge, to be truthful to Camus spirit. Thanks to the other texts, Algerian Chronicles, I was able to be true to the French-Algerian history. My goal was not to make a historical film, but true to the history and achieve a universal message. It could have been any war. I hope the film is connected to this world and not only a historical film about French history.
The Algerian war of independence is a very controversial subject in France. Was this a particular theme you wanted to explore in the film?
Not really. It is a controversial topic in France, people don’t want to talk much about the Algerian war, it’s kind of taboo. That said, I didn’t want my film to be controversial about the Algerian war. My goal was to try to tell the story about two men, two outsiders, and about how difficult it is to really know another person and the difficulty of fraternity. It’s a big world and a nice world, but the story shows how difficult fraternity is in real life, in real situations. It was a humanistic story. I wanted to portray what happens in two men minds when the country is in war and again it could be any war. There is no clean war, it’s always awful.
The film Battles of Algiers was banned in France when it was released, now it’s considered a masterpiece and, of course, available in France. How was the French reaction to Far From Men?
Battles of Algiers I agree is a masterpiece. The French audience reaction was very good, we had good reviews. I think people were moved by the film, we didn’t have an agenda about the Algerian war, what the French army had done there. We screened the film in Algeria too, which was a big relief for me to see that the Algerian audience had such a good reaction. As I mentioned, I didn’t want to raise any controversy, so it was a relief for me to see these reactions.
How did you come across to work with two very talented and known actors, Viggo Mortensen and Reda Kateb?
I knew Reda Kateb from my first feature film, where he did some tests for a boxer character, he was a great actor with a lot of charisma but he couldn’t be credible enough to play a boxer for that part. I had him in my head since then because I liked his performance very much, and would propose another part when it would be adequate, which I did. So I knew him before.
For Viggo, a big change I made from the adaptation of the short story. The character is a French/Algerian Québécois and at the same time of Spanish decent. It was a way for me to bring the two characters together that was rejected by their own communities. Looking for a non-french actor I thought of Viggo Mortensen, I was connected with him through the Spanish role, I’ve seen him in a Spanish film called Captain Alatriste and I knew he could speak perfect Spanish. I didn’t know he could speak any language on earth, but I always had his face in my mind for this character, it actually helped me to write the script. I asked my producer and he told me that Viggo can speak French very well. When I knew that, I thought we should try. When he got the script he liked it very much, we talked a lot and then he was on board. It was magic because he is an amazing actor and helped me a lot in the process of making the film.
— Interview conducted by Lia Fietz