Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Camino: Eroding the foundations of fundamentalism one tear at a time.

A film review. Camino, (2009) directed by Javier Fesser

caminoIf suffering brings us close to God, then I guess everyone coming out of this film will be practically knocking on Heaven’s door. It is an excruciating look at the tortured life of a little girl as she suffers with a domineering mother, a fanatical religion and an extremely painful disease. This dark, nightmarish melodrama is an intelligent look at the hypocrisy and deadening effect of fundamentalist religion on the human spirit, but unfortunately, the medicine is as grim as the condition, and the film is a torture to watch.

Nerea Camacho, in the title role, is a beautiful little girl and a fine actress, though it seems that she has been directed here to ham and mug for the camera in order to jerk every last tear out of the viewer. But it’s a formula as effective as it is obvious, and not surprisingly, the little girl was awarded a Goya for best new actress. In all, the film received 6 Goyas as well as ten other Spanish film awards, reflecting its big box-office success in Spain. However, I don’t think it will do as well in the international markets, since the Spanish guilty pleasure in masochistic religious tales does not travel very well. Besides that, the cultish Opus Dei Catholicism depicted here seems a long way off from the lives of most modern Europeans. Add to that the clumsy symbolism, the bloody hospital scenes as gruesome as a Santeria prayer card and a relentlessly maudlin musical score and what brought some audiences to tears will send others to the nearest exit.

That is not to say that this is an inconsequential film. The story is well written, working on several levels at once. Every action is symbolic and reflective of some other action, every belief is both proven and debunked along the way. This makes for a surprisingly complex melodrama. A particularly striking example of this is the extended double-entendre sequence at the end, which can be read as a cynical depiction of the way zealots misinterpret human experience, or possibly how the most carnal human love and the love of God are all one and the same thing. Moreover, the characterizations are very subtly drawn, to make us reflect on the ways that people use and abuse religious dogma to support their own ambitions and prejudices. A very telling scene, in which Camino’s older sister, a novice in an Opus Dei community house, speaks with a more experienced nun about her attachment to her family. The older woman gives her an explanation of family devotion that makes it sound precisely orchestrated by the devil himself. There are other scenes in which Camino’s mother uses religion to manipulate her daughter to reject the pleasures of life. In these moments the film tells us something important about the power of fundamentalist religion to make people renounce their love of humanity for some imagined love for God, as though their responsibilities to the human race are a mere distraction from their responsibilities to God. Yet, this is done in ways that make these fundamentalists seem perfectly real and chillingly reasonable.

The information at the end of the film states that the story is based on the life of a girl named Alexia who died in 1985 and is now in the process of beatification. It is hard to figure how this story, which shows how the love of human life can be misinterpreted and twisted for the glorification of a misguided religion, can be reconciled with that process.

Okay, hopefully that will permanently discredit the fanatics at Opus Dei. Now, let’s see the really important one: the Taliban version.

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October 28, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , , ,

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