Walking the Camino

Cinema review by John Campbell

‘The Way’ (2010) was a fictional account of one man’s pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, following the Camino, or the Way of St James. It was a hugely satisfying movie and it provided a glimpse into physical grind and spiritual reward of the 500-mile trek.

For her documentary on the subject, Lydia Smith has chosen a handful of walkers, aged from three to seventy-three, who are dissimilar in nearly every way but for their desire to first and foremost finish the journey (it is almost too much for one of them), and also come to terms with that unnamable something within that helps us make sense of our random existence.

As with any group of people, there are some that you will warm to more easily than others, some that you will want the camera to return to more frequently instead of lingering with those who rub you the wrong way. I didn’t like the Dutch trio much – she was a bit flaky, her little boy was an obnoxious brat and her brother a selfish pain in the arse. But fortunately the majority of hikers are engaging and forthcoming – the widowed man who’s heart is still broken, the handsome young Portuguese fellow who was accompanied for part of the way by some Spanish mates, the American lady who, after being shown such generosity by a group of Germans that she had never met before, burst into tears and admits that ‘I have never been as kind as that to anybody.’

Through a sweeping landscape of rugged terrain and gentle pastures, across streams and into major urban centres (Pamplona), the path itself becomes as much a ‘player’ as those on it and Smith, whose previous work was as camera operator, has a sure eye for the captivating shot. The important thing, however, is that she lets the her subjects speak for themselves and by so doing we are able, by sharing their endeavour, to identify our own vague yearning for greater understanding.

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