Verdict: An absorbing, well shot and often moving doco tracking the progress of 6 “pilgrims” walking Spain’s 500km Camino de Santiago.
This absorbing documentary tracks the progress of 6 trekkers of disparate backgrounds, ages and nationalities as they walk in the footsteps of centuries of pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient route stretching 500km westward across Spain and terminating at the city of Santiago de Compostela.
Not all the walkers are on a “pilgrimage”. Tomás, for example, sees the Camino as a bit of a lark. A fit-looking, affable Portuguese bloke in his thirties, he is out for fun, companionship and adventure, having whimsically chosen the trek over learning kite-surfing. Middle-aged LA resident Anne, by contrast, is serious-minded, values her solitude and declares that she is on a spiritual quest, but finds her body jeopardising her mission. An elderly Canadian gentleman doing the walk with his mate hopes to reconcile himself to the death of his wife and enter a new stage of life. Then there is a warring French brother and sister, she deeply religious, he an atheist and iconoclast who takes nothing seriously (except, perhaps, Che Guevara). She is resentful that her young son, whom she pushes along in a stroller, appears to be idolising her bro and prone to his subversive influence.
The walkers start as individuals but become a community, united by the Camino experience. Whatever their initial attitudes and motivations, they find themselves on an unpredictably life-changing inner journey as well as being physically challenged by the rigours and discomforts of the walk. There is the changeable weather, aches and pains from joints unused to long days of negotiating rough paths through mountainous terrain, blisters on the feet, dorm accommodation and the inevitable disharmonious nocturnal chorus of snorers…
The film flits between the subjects, giving the impression that they are all tackling the epic walk at the same time, although few have any direct interaction with each other. While their stories are interesting and their moments of self-revelation often moving, the filmmaker doesn’t push through into deeply personal or uncomfortable territory. The piece would have benefited from a bit of edge.
That said, it works well as a travelogue, and the trek throws up some nice insights (eg: “What’s bad for the ego is good for the soul”). There are some magnificent, sweeping panoramas of the often stunning countryside, and some scenes inside the pubs and sleeping quarters that service the walkers along the way. Anyone interested in walking the Camino will get a good idea of what to expect – far better than afforded by Emilio Estevez’s insubstantial and rather contrived fictional feature film of 2012, The Way, which put the Camino on the public radar.
Prospective pilgrims should note that promo campaigns and the Hollywood spotlight have diminished the exclusivity and bragging rights of “doing the Camino”. It’s now very much a Thing. In 1986, 2500 walkers completed the trek – around 238,000 did it in 2014. Better make sure you book your dorms well in advance.
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