review by Peter Menkin
There are a number of important things to say about this picturesque film about a religious pilgrimage with the apt title, “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” which this film goer viewed at the small art theatre outside San Francisco in the Smith Rafael Film Center, Paying $8.00 for the four o’clock show, December 8, 2013, as did his assistant Linda Shirado.
Important thing number one to say: The scenery is just excellent, and we enjoyed the movie, if for nothing more than scenery alone. After all, this pilgrimage has lasted for 1,200 years and walkers have been walking it for that long in this Roman Catholic trek of penance that Director Lydia Smith filmed and also caught its beauty. The Los Angeles Catholic paper Tidings writer Brenda Rees broadens the scenery remark of Lydia Smith this way: “Photographed with gorgeous images of idyllic landscapes and historical structures, the film depicts the physical and spiritual journeys for
six pilgrims, ages 21-62, from Chile, Germany, Italy, the U.S. and other international countries. Some are walking for religious reasons, some for the physical test of endurance. Over the course of the film, these six will bond and form friendships, face extreme despair and doubt, accept kindness from strangers, find romance, brave the elements, and discover spiritual strength that will help them cross an entire country on foot.” How true is her statement, Brenda Ross’ It is in these relationships that some of the transformation is found. But for the religious, the transformation is with God, in that walk, in that way, in that step by step walk with God along the path. As two of the walkers found, it is on the path itself in the way that something unusual happens. It is a mystery of life itself, to be mystical about it and each has a way of coming to this mystery. Maybe it is in the joy they discover, and maybe it is in the hardships and the pain, and simply in the difficulty and success of traveling on foot along the 500 miles. Who is to say what the ways of the Saints or the ways of God may be that attract people to this practice. They go and do. Faith comes.
But for important thing number two, this writer has a point of difference, and it is this Religion Writer’s observation that it is a strength of the film in our modern day of secularism for this particular film. That is the very
secular interpretation the director and producer give the walk they portray on this religious path. All the participants seem to have less than deep conversions on the way. They hold meaningful conversations, of a kind. I am not just warm on the movie, it was hot in parts. What can be called shallow so much, adds up to more than that in the aggregate. They appear to go through what the new age people call, “changes,” or as one newspaper headlined their story– this is a movie about “A Road to Reflection.” I think that is really what the producers were saying their walkers found on the way. Now one can’t know the workings of God. What is a reflection at one time may be a life moving event later, or a conversion later on in life. So judgments of the mystery of a walk like that found on this ancient way can’t be made. And the movie is enjoyable, if not deeply moving, so the price of $8.00 was well spent on a cold Northern California later afternoon towards the close of the sun which set around 5:30 p.m.
The third and final thing that seemed important about the film were the pithy remarks by pilgrims. They seem to have meaningful things to say along the way. The pilgrims were needy. The pilgrims were sometimes mournful. The pilgrims were sometimes unhappy. All were in need of some kind of change for their lives, or a hope, or a renewal. Many times I was moved by what the pilgrims said, let me not fail to say that. So be prepared for real reflection and the better part of meaning and joy. Mercy.
Let me also not leave out this excellent report on Director Smith’s intent by another writer: “’My intention in making the film was that it would be completely appealing and acceptable
equally to someone that is very devout and to one that is agnostic,’ Smith said. “That was kind of my biggest challenge, and I feel like my great accomplishment. It doesn’t isolate any particular population of belief. To have it be acceptable to everyone was really important to me.”–quotation by Sean Gallagher, October 11, 2013, Archdiocese of Indianapolis paper.
So the reader will see, this Religion Writer is in much company in finding the film hasn’t much religious temper to it.
Trailer: Walking the Camino
This forty minute interview with the director in Oregon is a thoughtful one and comprehensive.
From the film’s website:
The Camino de Santiago is named for Santo Iago, or Saint James – one of the 12 Apostles and rumored brother of Jesus Christ. According to legend, his body was found in a boat that washed ashore in Northern Spain thousands of years ago. His remains were transported inland and were buried under what is now the grand Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which marks the end of the Camino. His bones were rediscovered in the 9th century, when a hermit saw a field of stars that led him to the ancient, forgotten tomb.
In the millennium following its re-discovery, millions from all over Europe have walked thousands of miles to visit the remains of the disciple. At the height of its popularity in the 11th and 12th centuries, anywhere from 250,000 – 1,000,000 people a year are said to have made the pilgrimage.
According to Catholic tradition, if you faithfully completed the arduous trek, one’s sins were forgiven. If one completed the pilgrimage during a Holy Year – the infrequent occasion when St. James Day, July 25th, falls on a Sunday – a plenary indulgence was granted, allowing one to bypass purgatory and enter straight into heaven. In the Middle Ages, wealthy aristocrats would often hire people to walk in their name in order to, by proxy, absolve them of their sins without actually setting foot on the Camino.
Historically, many countries have provided criminals with the choice to either serve prison time, or do the Camino. Even today, Belgium will sometimes allow minor crimes to be pardoned by completing the pilgrimage. While, in these cases, the Camino was used as a form of punishment, its impact upon a pilgrim’s connection with themselves and their world community could instead be regarded as an unconventional form of rehabilitation.
UNESCO has declared it a Universal Patrimony of Humanity and a World Heritage Site. In 1987, the European Union declared the Camino de Santiago to be the first European Cultural Itinerary. Although originally known as a Christian pilgrimage, the Camino now attracts people of all faiths and backgrounds – from atheists to Buddhists, adventurers to mourners, and college students to retired friends.