Camino Skies review – touching study of a pilgrimage of hope

Troubled by personal loss or painful illness, six hikers embark on a 500-mile spiritual odyssey in this undemanding documentary

Here’s a gentle, somewhat plodding documentary following six strangers as they hike the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage that ends in north-western Spain. For most of them, the walk is a spiritual journey: an opportunity to heal grief or let go of something. Or, for one 70-year-old woman with agonising arthritis, the chance to stick two fingers up to her illness.

First-time directors Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth politely observe the walkers – all from Australia or New Zealand – with perhaps too much restraint. Their film has occasional insights and a couple of lump-in-the-throat moments, but it could have prodded and poked more.

The Camino famously offers modern pilgrims an opportunity for reflection and solitude, even if at times the route looks as rammed as Glastonbury. The most watchable of the six hikers is a fiftysomething who has experienced the terrible double loss of her husband and son, who died within 16 days of each other; she radiates friendliness, gentleness and independence. The woman with arthritis, remarkably, manages the 25km or so walk most days before spending the night in a dormitory bunk bed. A father, walking in memory of his 17-year-old daughter who died of cystic fibrosis, seems barely to be holding it together.

The film gives us glimpses of the tetchiness and irritability of people sharing the company of five others for 35 days. In one scene someone tells the grieving dad that he needs to “let go” of his grief; it’s so tactless that you want to know how he felt after that. But the focus here is on the camaraderie and support, at the expense of a deeper, more complex story. And this is not a film to watch if you are hankering for ravishing images of the landscape – the cinematography is pretty budget.

• Camino Skies is available on Curzon Home Cinema from 8 May.


Cath Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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