CAMINO – A True Story
This 2008 award winning movie of Spanish director Javier Fesser was shown at the Okanagan College last week sponsored by FCCS, LAIS, Okanagan College, and the Spanish Consulate in Toronto, and presented by the UBC Spanish program. The next movie in this program will be presented on Dec. 13 at 6:30: Vete De Mi by Victor Garcia Leon.
The movie CAMINO demonstrates how the church leaders manipulate the members of the family. It starts when Camino, a prepubescent girl in modern day Spain, is ill, lying in a hospital bed and her mother is talking to her. Big sister is on her way to the hospital and we see her leaving her institution, running through the rain. The story unfolds in a long flashback showing milestones and events of CAMINO’S life. By the end of the movie, we again see that same scene: Camino in bed, her sister running in the street and arriving; Big Sis stumbles into the hospital room while a number of people are watching respectfully from the corridor.
The director shows what all happened to this family and especially the thoughts of the protagonist—Camino—in dream sequences and flash backs. Camino’s thoughts are in complete contradiction to what the mother, the sister and the church leaders are saying to each other and to Camino. In the movie, the mother’s and sister’s interpretations of Camino’s behaviours and thoughts become one big lie.
Camino lives a life as any girl her age, nothing is special here. Camino would like to join a theatre group for kids that she visited with her mother once, but her mom discourages her from joining. We don’t know why, although we see that the group and its leader are a joyful and unorthodox bunch.
Mother takes Camino to the doctor and we see him give her a long needle right into her spine: what the hell are they giving her a spinal tap for? Camino gets scolded for complaining during the procedure when she squirms and cries out in pain. You hate Mother already this early in the movie.
Camino becomes ill and cannot join the theatre group anyway, but her closest friend is a member, as well as a boy from the bakery shop—the appreciation between Camino and him seems mutual. The girl friend keeps her informed of new developments. The group starts a play and chose the Cinderella story theme that Camino had proposed earlier during her first and only visit.
She also has a favourite book, about a little man who has only one a problem: he doesn’t exist. It’s a story her dad read to her when she was little; she finds it again in a store and her dad lets her buy the book, but her mother takes it from her and hides it, as it is a non-religious book. Mom gives her a book about a saint that she puts on her night stand instead; the other book disappears.
The father gives Camino a nice music box in the shape of a safe (he works for a insurance company), but mom makes it disappear. Her father films Camino on every birthday and she performs for him, dancing and obviously full of joy.
Another subplot is a house mouse darting in and out of the movie and through Camino’s comatose dreams. Her mother tries to catch it to get rid of it as vermin in the pantry, while it’s a pet for Camino: a symbol of nature and of irrepressible joy.
Another flash back shows that Camino’s parents lost their youngest child, a baby boy. There is a faint suggestion that the mother might have killed the boy. She speaks the words without any feeling that he is lucky to be there now–in heaven–and that they should be jealous of him, not sad. Camino aptly asked her mom: “Should I kill myself then?”
Camino misses her big sister, although big Sis seldom visits and when she does, she has no time for her little sis who adores her. Mother monopolizes Sis and they talk about the religious life and about the important church officials scheduled to visit the religious institution where Sis now lives. Mother often hints to Camino at a secret or unexplained situation around big sis and talks a lot about destination. Camino is now the only child left living at home and there are frequent references that she might go “the way of her sister”.
Camino becomes sicker and undergoes operation after operation, ends up in a body cast, undergoes chemo therapy, and then radiation, and still things deteriorate more. The nature of these medical procedures is portrayed in the movie as torture, with close up shots of surgeries. I wanted them to stop it and considered walking out, feeling disturbed, not enlightened, wondering why this was done. This movie has the most disasters happening on a continuum to a young protagonist that I can remember, besides the stories from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales that I read growing up. The movie left me angry, baffled and disturbed. During the 2 ½ hour show I sometimes wanted to leave, but didn’t and was glad I sat through the whole thing. The emotional roller coaster was needed to fully understand the meaning and the message of the movie. The director achieved that by juxtaposing the behaviours of the characters with their words, in two separate groups: the Believers and the Unbelievers.
The movie portrays the Believers in a way that left me feeling wildly angry at their self-denial and delusional thinking within the context of what was happening to them. Especially, the mother and Camino’s sister were clearly mouthpieces, repeating the words and beliefs of their religious leaders, not allowing any other alternative view or critical thinking: complete obeisance was required. If you are not for us, you are against us.
The result is that Mother and Sis completely denied themselves (and Camino) all innocent pleasures, completely crushing their joy of living in the meantime. They were not allowed to express their pain and grief, or their joy and pleasure–if they had any– in anything other than a religious context. All positive human feelings were distorted as trivial and forbidden. All pain and suffering must be for God and for the love of Jesus; all pleasures must be sacrificed. It seemed that pain and suffering were the only feelings allowed, even were the goal.
In the case of Camino: the physicians already knew Camino would not recover and still they went ahead with another treatment and another operation, while praying for a miracle. Camino was needlessly tortured, as she was “offered up”, much like Jesus and his crucifixion. I never understood that dogma, not when growing up and not now.
I was completely unaware that in this day and age such a branch of the Roman Catholic religion still exists in a western, industrialized country and still has such a hold on believers. I thought Dan Brown’s inventive use of history was fiction; it sure made for an intriguing book (The Da Vinci Code).
My heart broke for this girl while she was in such dire straits with these monsters around her, denying expression of their own pain and grief for losing their loved one, as well as denying Camino’s suffering. In my view and interpretation of the movie, the extreme, religious-based manipulation, if not outright caused in fact the end of a life, it surely hastened it by denial of the power of positive thinking and for lack of joy. El Camino—The Way—is certainly not for everyone.
But, the movie also showed the antidote to the misery: in the presence of the Unbelievers, such as the unconditional love of Camino’s father for her and the love from her friends from school who did not forget her, in particular of the boy that Camino has a crush on, nicknamed Cuco, whose real name is Jesus, a common Spanish name. In the last scene, Camino in her coma sees her father and then Cuco, speaking his name before she dies–Jesus. In the end, well, maybe Camino, her father and Cuco were the real winners, as the movie’s message suggests.
I saw the mother as misguided and bloodless, depressed maybe, and cold, using both daughters as a pean in her scheme to achieve religious standing and benefits, living vicariously through her children. Her husband was weak and unable to stand up to her, as she accused him of being a non believer. He tried to entertain and show Camino his love; they had a strong bond. The elder sister was clearly mama’s girl, two peas in a pot, both unable to enjoy life, ambitious within the religious world; mom pushed her into it deeper and deeper: the poor girl had no chance.
Have you seen this movie? What did you think? I would really like to know.