Depending on how you look at it, a movie about El Camino de Santiago could be brilliant or brutally boring. On one hand, the pilgrimage, which started as a religious processional to the shrine of St. James in Galicia, Spain, more than 1,000 years ago, is an awe-inspiring feat of human stamina; on the other, it’s a 500-mile walk.
The good-natured documentary “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” tends toward the positive end of the spectrum. Director Lydia Smith opts to show a wealth of experiences along the Camino, although focusing deeply on a couple of travelers might have made more of an impact.
Smith follows six groups of hikers departing from Southern France, each on the trek for their own reasons. For one man, it was either the Camino or learning to kite-surf, while a British-Brazilian woman sees the journey as the next logical, radical step to rejiggering her life, since she’s already chopped off and bleached her hair. Others travel alone, looking for solitude, although one French woman brings along her 3-year-old son, which is either adventurous or insane.
The experience of walking varies wildly from person to person. A couple of middle-age men from Canada wander day after day, weathering the rain and sunburns without complaint, while an American woman cries nearly every time she’s interviewed. Her debilitating tendinitis threatens her prospects of making it to Galicia.
One of the most important parts of making a documentary like “Walking the Camino” is selecting subjects. A filmmaker tends to start the process following a bunch of people and then whittles it down to the most worthwhile characters. In the case of this movie, there’s a sense that the roster could have been better honed.
Few of the hikers turn out to be particularly memorable. Seeing what it takes to travel with a 3-year-old on the Camino is more interesting than watching a woman suffer with sore knees. And following along on the fledgling relationship of a man and a woman who met on the Camino turns out to be more rewarding than the more run-of-the-mill tale of a woman seeking reinvention. It’s possible that all the subjects would have made more of an impression had the film stayed with them for longer periods instead of jumping constantly from group to group.
That being said, the movie’s other subject — the Camino itself — is more than ably captured. The scenery is so spectacular, rain or shine, that even close-ups of grotesque blisters and pilgrims weeping from pain can’t deter a viewer from wanting to see the path for herself. “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” may not be entirely brilliant, but it’s at the very least inspiring.
★ ★ ½
Unrated. At West End Cinema. Contains nothing objectionable. In English and Spanish with subtitles. 84 minutes.