Camino Skies

 

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A film that faces stiff competition from a TV series put out in 2019.

 
Camino Skies 

Julie Zarifeh

 

We have here a documentary of immense human appeal and for many viewers that may render it so relishable that they will regard it as a success. But to my mind it is the people who are seen as central to the film, six in all, who give it value and they achieve that often unhelped by the way in which Camino Skies has been assembled. That is not to suggest that its creators, Noel Smyth and Fergus Grady, were in any way lacking in commitment, but their good intentions never enabled them to find a way to tackle the complex material satisfyingly on an aesthetic level.

 

As the title suggests, this is a film about the celebrated route taken by pilgrims setting out to cover around 500 miles as they travel from the French border through Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela. It does so by accompanying six chosen travellers whose homes are in Australia or New Zealand and it is clearly not by chance that four of them have recently been bereaved. Of the other two, one, Claude Tranchant, is a woman used to the journey who out of her experience offers support and wisdom to the others, while Sue Morris, only slightly younger at 70 and suffering from arthritis, is repeating the walk in a manner that makes one admire her fortitude.

 

It might seem natural for religious faith to be a central issue as it was in The Way, that 2010 fictional treatment about the camino made by Emilio Estevez, and in the 2019 BBC television series Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago, although both touched on the doubters as well as on the devout. Here, however, the choice of these particular travellers puts the focus on grieving and presents the walk as a struggle that makes the participants stronger. This aspect and the camaraderie that develops en route are far more central to Camino Skies than any religious theme, a fact confirmed by an unexpected coda after the arrival at Santiago. That would be fine if it all came together smoothly, but it is no easy matter to establish the six leading figures clearly, to fit in their individual stories at some point, to combine interview footage with the progress of the journey, to do all of this within 80 minutes and to make everything flow easily.

 

By the close the six individuals have indeed established themselves sufficiently for us to respond to each of them on a personal basis, but the format of the TV series had the great advantage of providing three hours in which to engage us fully with seven walkers, some of whom were known celebrities. There we were drawn in effortlessly whereas here we have a piece that chops and changes moving erratically from person to person and even more uneasy is our initial introduction to the main individuals whose voices are often heard before they are directly identified. Occasional visual flashbacks add to the feeling of bittiness, as do instances of interview comments continued over walking shots. The longer the film goes on the more the appeal of the participants wins out, but I felt that they deserved a better form of presentation than they got. In that respect this is a poor second to the TV series, but many viewers will forgive or ignore any failings as they take these modern-day pilgrims to their hearts.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Julie Zarifeh, Sue Morris, Terry, Mark Thomas, Claude Tranchant, Cheryl Stone, Father Manny C. Domingo Jnr, Neill Le Roux, Belli Naima. Rachael Speedy, Louise Tessier.

 

Dir Noel Smyth and Fergus Grady, Pro Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth, Ph Noel Smyth, Ed Roman Watkins, Music Tom McLeod.

 

Camino Skies-Parkland Entertainment.
81 mins. New Zealand/Australia. 2019. Rel: 8 May 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 12.