This very affable documentary begins with the quote “Walking is man’s best medicine”. Judging by the bowed backs, sweating brows, and bleeding toes of the assortment of Kiwis who have chosen to walk the five hundred mile Camino de Santiago, I’m not so sure. Perhaps medicine for the soul, as every one of these pilgrims has their own heartbreak of one kind or another. By walking the long trail they hope to find some closure.
Sue has degenerative arthritis, Julie has lost her husband to cancer, and Mark’s young daughter died of cystic fibrosis. There are others whose stories we don’t hear. They make an odd bunch, united in grief, chivvying each other along. Armed with double trekking poles and tinted glasses, like out-of-season skiers, they stumble across country admiring the view. Every night they stop at a hostel and learn of each other’s troubles. Friendships are made and shoulders cried on.
As well as their walking equipment they are armed with typical Kiwi good cheer. It is impossible for them to make a solemn affair of a solemn affair as they josh and joke and make light of things. It is heartening to watch. As well as crumbling chapels they are able to seek out the nearest pub, and usually make time for a swift one. When things are in danger of becoming too deep, Mark has a sip of his pint and says “Fuck it.” Asked what he would do with all the money in the world, he says he would spend it “Tryna find cures for shit.”
Amiable though it is, there are many deeply sympathetic moments. The quiet bond between Mark and his father-in-law Terry (a pairing which could have been a tall order) as they support each other is touching, as is the determination of seventy-year-old Sue to reach the end despite her great pain (she of the bleeding toes).
There is some fussy cinematography and stirring pop music which, for my money, rather detracts from the quiet and honest feelings Camino Skies channels. Nevertheless, it is a film which elicits sympathy and compassion without pushing too many buttons. I hope they find what they’re looking for.
Camino Skies is released digitally on demand on 8th May 2020.
Watch the trailer for Camino Skies here: