On the road to Compostela **
by Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth
New Zealand-Australian documentary, 1 h 20
What did they come to seek on the way to Compostela, these New Zealand pilgrims, for having felt the need to go into exile thousands of kilometers from home? Not to afford a dream trip but to live an experience of 800 kilometers on foot which is often akin to a muddy and rainy ordeal …
The most moving of the answers, it is Sue Morris, 70 years old, little end of woman on edge, who gives it. ” I can do it “, she keeps repeating to herself, as the miles intensify the terrible pain she seems to feel through her whole body, battered by the rough ride.
Sue suffers from incurable kyphoscoliosis, a double deformity of the spine. Her face, grimacing with pain, testifies to the strength of the personal challenge that she has imposed on herself: to walk so as not to give in to resignation. In this adventure, she has for allies an extraordinary energy, a solid humor and… her fellow travelers.
Vast landscapes and abysmal questions
Focusing on the footsteps of six pilgrims, Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth’s camera reveals how the Camino de Santiago is also a collective experience, for those who want to live it like this.
When fatigue becomes overwhelming and muscles sore, when morale falters and suddenly makes the goal so ardently desired unachievable, a knowing look, an affectionate hug, laughter and a few confidences exchanged in the evening over a beer give the strength to put one foot in front of the other. To face the immensity of the landscapes crossed – and magnificently filmed against a background of soft inspiring music – as well as abyssal questions.
“It’s so unthinkable that they both left”, blows Julie Zarifeh, 54 years old. Eyes reddened, staring blank, she recalls the almost simultaneous death of Paul, her husband of thirty years, suffering from pancreatic cancer, and of her son, Sam, who drowned in a canoe accident. “I walk to mourn”, she blurted out without saying more.
Paradoxically, it is perhaps here that the (small) limit of this documentary lies, to which the human density of its characters confers an undeniable and particularly moving force. If the directors convey the empathy they feel for these endearing walkers to the viewer, they leave them a little unsatisfied as to their underlying motivations.
Mark Thomson, whose 17-year-old daughter has cystic fibrosis, says: “I am not a believer, but I have come to seek answers. ” Which ones? Has he found any or not? And what about others? We will not really know, as if the spiritual quest, only outlined by a few plans in a church or candles lit in memory of the deceased, was not central in an approach from which God seems absent here.