In David Oelhoffen’s Far From Men, Viggo Mortensen plays a reclusive teacher who helps a villager accused of commiting a murder escape into the mountains during the Algerian war.

The film premiered in Venice and plays in Toronto starting Tuesday.

Even though this survival story is set in remote Algeria, Mortensen sees parallels to more classic Westerns. He said that his connection to the Western genre is the fact that he was born in North America and is a descendent of Buffalo Bill. In terms of the Western genre, he said in Venice, “I think it’s interesting in that it has to do with the problems that you see now in the Middle East and many other places which is this problem when one society under the guise of civilizing or bringing humanism is trying to subjugate a native culture,” he said and added that this is something that has been seen historically in North America, South America and Algeria and that has been fought for a long time.

The story is adapted from Albert Camus’ short story The Host and the actor says, “one of the most helpful things about preparing this role was reading Camus’ diaries and his correspondence with other writers, in particular René Char … about art, life and just mundane things … just the date and what else was happening in France at that time and in Algeria”.

Mortensen liked that Oelhoffen let the story evolve slowly, and it takes a while for his and Reda Kateb’s characters to make a connection. “These days, moviegoers have become accustomed to seeing movies that things have to happen really quickly, a lot has to happen, it has to be extremely dramatic and in your face but that doesn’t allow for much subtle character development,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen has made several films in recent years with non-American directors. “It’s just the stories that I happen to read that I liked, and that’s not to say that there aren’t other interesting stories including American ones or big budget movies,” he said.

He has also gravitated, unintentionally, to films that see him out in nature — including Far From Men, Jauja and On The Road. “They’re just good stories,” the actor says. “Maybe there’s some personal attraction to stories about human beings in a natural environment coming into conflict with it or having to survive in it.”

That’s also true with his new film Captain Fantastic, currently in production. He said: “It’s about a family that lives in the wilderness… and I play the father of six children and we live in the middle of the forest ‘far from men.’”