Opening July 9, 2015
Directed by: David Oelhoffen
Writing credits: Albert Camus, David Oelhoffen
Principle actors: Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb, Djemel Barek, Vincent Martin, Nicolas Giraud
Humanity’s conundrum is consistency – politically, amorally, in accountability – that French-Algerian philosopher Albert Camus’s 1957 short story L'Hôte (The Guest from L'exil et le royaume [Exile and the Kingdom]) scrutinizes. Aesthetically sensual and cinematically stunning, tensions are high in French colonial Algeria, 1954 when war for independence breaks out. In a solitary structure squatting on a plateau, loner Daru (Mortensen) teaches children from surrounding mountain villages. Gendarme Balducci (Martin) arrives and gives Daru no choice; he must take the accused murderer (Kateb) to Tinguit to be tried. Seemingly poles apart, the two men’s journey progresses in stages, externally and internally, somewhat absurdly and sometimes poignantly. Decent men forced by fate, they persist whereby both teacher and prisoner make life-altering choices.
Writer/director David Oelhoffen explains his adaptation to the New York Times, “From the start, I felt it could be a universal story rather than a French story, like a western — a collision of two systems of law, with that immensely savage and powerful landscape”. Visual magnitude offsets verbal minimalism enforced through brilliant sound design: shattering silences, earsplitting winds, soothing downpours, looming hoof beats and marching feet echoing off earthen tracks or rocky gradients ally with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s music, amplifying the atmospheric worth. Mortensen and Kateb’s brilliance is kinetically conveying their characters emotional inundations that cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines, shooting on Panavision, encompasses. Not for everyone but quite breathtaking – a rare treat for those who do invest the time. French | Arabic | Spanish – German subtitles; 102 minutes (Marinell H.)