Updated: Feb 8, 2020
"Have you seen the way?" I was asked.
"It's a film about a man who went for a walk on the Camino de Santiago, you have to watch it..."
Makes a change from people asking if I've seen Wild.
A film by Emilio Estevez starring, once again, his real life dad, Martin Sheen. This time Dad is an Ophthalmologist, who does sight tests, plays golf, doesn't speak French and above all else lives an ordered, predictable and sensible life. In between all of that, his wayward son, who does not wish to emulate his father whatsoever (and who can blame him), eschews convention, quits his Berkeley doctoral studies and buggers off to travel the world.
"I'm not most people" says Daniel (Emilio) counters his father's assertion that he has the life he has chosen.
"You don't choose a life, dad; you live one."
Their preferred collocations sum up the vast difference in outlook between the two men.
Alas, as Daniel arrives to walk the Pilgrim's Way, also known as the Camino de Santiago, between France and Spain, he dies on the first day of his Trek. No one really quite sure why, weather probably. Dad, flying to France to recover his son's body, is introduced to the Camino by the Police Captain as he return's Daniel's rucksack to him. Shortly after, he meets Joost, a Dutchman, another pilgrim and a very chipper one at that, in a cafe, which somehow inspires him to have his son's body cremated, something that seems to happen spontaneously because the next day, Daniel's father sets off to walk the Camino de Santiago instead - ordinarily a 800km, two-month long expedition taking with him his son's rucksack, his belongings and the barely-cooled ashes.
What for me, as someone who has more than a passing interest in long-distance walking, I could readily relate to is the "Okay, here we go!" followed up with the purposeful step in the wrong direction, shortly followed by a humiliating u-turn only to do exactly the same thing at the next junction. Getting lost in my own living room is a regular occurrence for me.
The scenery is utterly captivating - capturing the colours and contrasts of the region splendidly, instantaneously invoking in me an urge to walk it. Particularly as the ageing Mr Sheen seems to ascend steep hills without so much as minor huffing nor puffing, nor is there any glimpse of a wince at the inevitable blisters such endeavours usually induce. I'm assuming the normally conventional, upstanding, professional medical man wears indoor shoes rather than running shoes or hiking boots as a matter of course. What is also remarkable to watch is the utterly dreadful hair dye job done on Mr Sheen's hair - proving not only that films are not shot sequentially, but even Hollywood A-listers (or B-listers?) can have bad hair days!
The first night of his travails, he is reunited with Joost, the marijuana-smoking, overweight Dutchman. His jovial you-only-live-once personality is at odds with the grief-stricken, introverted, Dad of Daniel. They commence to walk together much to Dad of Daniel's chagrin.
"When I was young, I was too busy and now I'm older, I'm too tired." an innkeeper says full of regret, a much more evocative and eloquent alternative to YOLO I feel. In trying to escape Joost, Dan of Daniel pushes on further, only to end up conversing with a chain-smoking Canadian woman, Sarah, who is powered by attitude and bitterness, who does her utmost to discard the rest of the travellers, and our man who she calls Boomer, the next day.
Collecting experiences, both humiliating and humbling, Daniel's Dad's odyssey of distributing his son's ashes periodically, sees him catch up with the chain-smoking Canadian, re-join once again the drug-addled, obese-ish, Dutchman and acquire an irate Irishman, called Jack, a writer with writer's block. Despite evidently despising all three of them, Daniel's Dad's obnoxiousness doesn't seem to put any of them off and they all continue their pilgrimage together. Our eclectic crew then encounter all sorts of trouble, eccentrics and misunderstandings as they seemingly effortlessly traverse northern Spain. At no stage does Joost master how to use Nordic trekking poles, which irritates me intensely. The rest opt for single-stick walking oddly.
Other ponderables include:
- why Joost doesn't lose any weight during his trip
- why they all carry sleeping mats and bags despite staying in hostels
- why their coats look brand new when they arrive in Muxia
Sometimes the humour is wonderfully subtle, other times its slap yourself in the face stuff, the same can be said of the dialogue and its delivery overall. Sometimes the cinematography is outstanding, other times shaky and inconsistent.
When all is said and done, I loved it. Although not based on a true-story, thankfully because Daniel's Dad for sure pissed off the universe in some former life, this film has enough 'feel good factor' in it to raise a cheer.