I’d thought my feeling about pilgrimages were like that old joke about golf: a good walk, spoiled. But the captivating documentary Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago won me over with its generous balance between the experience of the body and the adventure of the soul. It records one 500-mile trek through the north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela; walkers trace the hills, valleys, monasteries and ancient passes, Roland’s own Roncevaux Pass among them.
Couples either draw together or fall apart under the strain of the month-long march. They’re as troubled as Tatiana and Alexis, a devout Catholic and her irreligious brother, or as serene as Wayne and Jack, a pair of elderly Canadian friends. The spiky Sam, a British/Brazilian lady, seeks to calm her own turmoil through the discipline of this long hike; another woman, Annie, goes through wrenching physical pain to get to the end. The documentary stresses the practicalities of the trip—the nights in snoring dens of travelers, the feet and joints outworn by the trail. One uncredited doctor notes that “the road tells you to slow down.”
The film is a clear labor of love for director and producer Lydia B. Smith, who will be in attendance at the film’s opening weekend in Sebastopol. She had gone on the walk by herself after a breakup. When she told her fellow pilgrims that she was a documentarian by trade, they suggested photographing the route. “My response was ‘Not under any circumstances,'” Smith says by phone from her office in Santa Monica. “I felt it was going to be too challenging to accurately reflect what this journey is about.” Of course, she changed her mind.
There is Chaucer’s own humanism to be enjoyed here, watching the various lives along their mutual journey. And after seeing the lambently photographed spring rain and wildflowers, you won’t be surprised to hear the film has been a hit in Oregon.
‘Walking the Camino’ opens Friday, Dec. 6, at Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol. Filmmakers present opening weekend.