Like the hikers walking the Camino trail across Spain, audiences watching ‘Walking the Camino – Six Ways to Santiago’ won’t want this absorbing documentary to end either. The independently produced film explores the joys and the heartaches of a group of modern-day pilgrims as they make the 800-km (500-mile) trek across the top of Spain.
The popular trail was previously the focus of the brilliant 2010 film ‘The Way’ from director Emilio Estevez, where a father (Martin Sheen) travels to Spain to recover the body of his estranged son. To honour his son’s memory, the distraught Dad decides to take the soul searching pilgrimage himself. Like that fictional drama, this documentary is also a genuine treat from start to finish.
A simple but effective film, the doco follows six walkers as they journey from St Jean Pied de Port, just over the Spanish border in France, across to Santiago de Compostela. Walked for centuries, the trail started as a Christian pilgrimage and remains that for many of those crossing Spain today. While others walk the trail without any religious connection, it continues to prove a spiritual experience for many as they contemplate their own place in the world. The documentary interestingly points out that the trail also served as a punishment for criminals in place of a jail term centuries ago.
The success of the documentary is its big focus on such a diverse array of people, all embarking on the trek but for very different reasons. Among the walkers are 30-something Thomas from Belgium, a guy who is on the trail for a change of scenery and to make new friends after leaving his job, and American hiker Annie who is focused on a sense of accomplishment. When it comes to an emotional journey, Canadian buddies Wayne and Jack provide plenty of sentiment as firm friends taking on the Camino so Wayne can honour his late wife. The duo conveys to the audience that rather than just conquering the challenge, the trail is more about living every single day. To these walkers, the road is home.
When it comes to the ‘incredibly courageous or incredibly crazy’ category, young single mother Tatiana from France takes that honour. Tatiana has attempted the journey with her three year-old son Cyrian in tow. Adding to the drama, the highly religious Tatiana is taking the trek with her brother Alexis who she doesn’t get along with and furthermore, he’s an atheist. Others on the walk include a mellow Dane named Misa hoping to find inner peace and Canadian William, a guy just wanting to get in shape. No matter what you’re age, your beliefs or even your physical condition, audiences are sure to identify with one of the walkers.
First-time director Lydia Smith nicely captures the range of scenic settings of the trail where paddocks start to look like a patchwork quilt as well as the beautiful vistas and the diverse shifts in weather. Particularly good are Smith’s vignettes where she shines a spotlight on behind the scenes aspects of the walk like sharing noisy hostel rooms and experiencing traditions like a feet washing ceremony. Destinations along the way vary from the beautiful Santo Domingo to the busy Leon, where some walkers find the hustle and bustle all a bit much after the ‘go at your own pace’ walk on the trail.
While the trail is depicted as demanding at times, it’s heartening that the film really shows audiences it’s a physical and spiritual challenge that many can achieve. It’s this possibility that should keep viewers involved right through to the end credits, wanting to find out whether each and every walker will make it to Santiago, as there’s plenty of blisters, bandages and sprains along the way.
You might find yourself ready to walk something after seeing this one, so maybe park the car a bit further away from the cinema or look into walking the Camino yourself. A great film that should be seen for the budding adventurer in all of us, I give this one four hiking boots out of five. Walking the Camino – Six Ways to Santiago opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday 11 June 2015.