Saturday, February 14, 2009


I finally got round to seeing Camino, the film that took most of the major honours in this year's Goyas ceremony. Directed by Javier Fesser, the film is inspired by, but not directly based on, real events - the death of a 14 year girl from a family belonging to Opus Dei in the 1980's and the subsequent moves to have her canonised. Camino is the name of the lead character (played by Nerea Camacho), a young girl who falls terribly ill, and whose last agonising weeks become the plaything of the religious sect to which her mother belongs. The story of Camino’s illness and death is presented as an imaginative mixture of hard reality with dream sequences normally taking place during the several surgical operations which she has to undergo.

Her mother (Carmen Elías) is a religious fundamentalist if ever there was one, content to hand over her children to the sect - Camino's elder sister has already been isolated from normal society by being sent to an Opus Dei community. Together with other members, she becomes convinced of her daughter’s devotion to Jesus and that her illness and imminent death is a privilege resulting from such devout faith. A more reasonable question might be to ask what kind of God allows someone to die in such a horrible way, but here death is converted into something glorious; of course by those who are not about to suffer it themselves. It struck me as being the Christian equivalent of a human sacrifice.

It soon becomes clear that the only person called Jesus who really interests Camino works some of the time at the local cake shop and is the cousin of one of her school friends. Her illness strikes just as she hopes to join a theatre group preparing a performance of Cinderella, Jesus plays the prince. Equally, the father to which she is most devoted is her real one (played by Mariano Venancio), whose attempts to put the happiness of his daughters above their religious sacrifice mean that he is treated with suspicion by the sect. It’s a film that deserves the recognition it has received and following its success in the Goyas it has now been reissued, so if you haven't seen it yet it should still be showing at least in the major cities.

Both the unsuccessful Spanish candidate for the Oscars, Los Girasoles Ciegos, and the disappointing Oxford Murders were virtually ignored when it came to handing out the prizes at the Goyas. Nor was there much joy for Solo Quiero Caminar, a fitting reward for what I found to be a particularly cold and joyless piece of cinema. It's been another generally poor year for Spanish cinema, with honourable exceptions like Camino; there have barely been enough quality films to make up the numbers for the award ceremonies.

Finally, there was no place in the Goyas for the Comunidad de Madrid's venture into film financing. Madrid's regional government normally has a cinema support fund of, er, 0 but last year that increased to a whopping 15 million euros all for one film. Sangre de Mayo was commissioned as part of Esperanza Aguirre's patriotic celebration of the 2 de Mayo bicentenary but the public remained unimpressed by the film and the last I heard it had only recovered €750,000 of the initial investment. Now whenever actors get involved in political issues in Spain there is normally a predictable outburst from the "liberal/conservative" axis that they should remove all subsidies from Spanish cinema. The same people have been a little bit quieter on Sangre de Mayo.


Katie said...

Haven't seen it yet, but suppose I will one of these days. Saw "The Reader" last night, which I'd highly recommend.

Troy said...

I think David Attenborough expressed this most eloquently the other day while celebrating Darwin's birthday. When asked why he never includes a 'god' in his films he said, "They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."

Ahhh, the privilege of Leukemia.

Graeme said...

Yes, you would have to invent a theory of intelligent design with extra malice included to account for Attenborough's example.