Camino Skies tracks six pilgrims from New Zealand and Australia as they embark on the historic five hundred mile pilgrimage that winds across Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
The gruelling pilgrimage – known in English as the Way of St. James – across the top of Spain has been followed on and off for a thousand years. It is rich in spiritual significance and was the subject matter of Emilio Estevez’s film The Way, as well as Luis Bunuel’s surrealist The Milky Way. Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth’s debut feature certainly has more in common with the former than the latter, but more than either its template is taken from the kind of light daytime television where it will undoubtedly find an appreciative audience.
It feels harsh to criticise a film that is so obviously well-meaning and close to its subjects. Its six protagonists all arrive at the pilgrimage with some baggage beyond the Goretex rucksacks they carry. Sue is by her own admission ‘no spring chicken’. She’s bent over with arthritis and bad knees but with grit and determination bends her way to the goal. Terry and his son-in-law Mark are walking for Cystic Fibrosis which took the life of Terry’s granddaughter at 17.
Perhaps the most tragic story comes with Julie who, having only just lost her husband to cancer, then loses her son in a rafting accident. The walk is not only an act of physical endurance but also spiritual healing and we see the individuals go through moments of physical and emotional breakdown as well as the more mundane trials of blisters and lost ways.
“It’s about walking in nature, listening to the sound of the birds, observing quietly life,” explains one of the pilgrims. But this reality is not what is captured in the film. Far from hearing the birdsong composer, Tom McLoud keeps our ears busy with inspirational, upbeat themes throughout. The film’s pace and editing keep insisting on putting some zip into the walk which means we never get a real sense of time and place.
Likewise, the group dynamic is unclear as walkers pair off occasionally and chat. One walker is treated with barely concealed irritation but we never get the shouty row we would have got if this had gone full reality TV. Camino Skies allows us a pleasant travelogue and some moving individual portraits in pain, but in wanting to keep things moving and spare us the slog loses something along the way.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty