Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago Runs Fri., Feb. 7–Thurs., Feb.

Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago

Runs Fri., Feb. 7–Thurs., Feb. 13 at SIFF Cinema Uptown and SIFF Film Center. 
Not rated. 84 minutes.

Martin Sheen has already starred in a gentle comedy about pilgrimage paths in Northern Spain (2010’s The Way, directed by his son Emilio Estevez), so this new doc feels slightly out of sequence. Usually it’s the other way around: first the sober nonfiction chronicle, then the cutesy Hollywood version. And if anything, in its international, uplifting cutesiness, Lydia Smith’s film may actually be more genial than its predecessor. A few priests explain the history of the pilgrimage paths to Santiago, where St. James is supposedly buried. At 500 miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in southwestern France, the Camino is a strenuous walk on both paved roads and pastoral trails, a trek that takes a month for most walkers. (A series of hostels en route provides bunks and grub.)

Not all of these half-dozen trekkers are strictly religious. For one young Portuguese businessman, the Camino is a personal challenge. A cheerful, sturdy Danish woman wants the time alone—then falls in step with a handsome Canadian. Annie, the lone American, is a New Agey but engagingly candid woman of a certain age; she says nothing about her life back home, but you suspect that her kids are in college and she’s possibly divorced. Then there’s the British-accented Samantha, a brash Brazilian who says she’s lost her job, boyfriend, and apartment back in London. She stops for regular smoking breaks, flirts shamelessly, and would be a far better heroine than Julia Roberts in the Eat Pray Love/Under the Tuscan Sun memoir category.

This cheerful travelogue could well have been produced by the Spanish National Tourist Board. I’m not saying it’s an infomercial, but the fellowship among these travelers is enormously appealing. The scenery is gorgeous and often medieval, so much so that you can forgive the platitudes—“Every day is a journey,” “The baggage you carry is your fears,” etc. A better summation comes from a Canadian cleric, who simply calls their 30-day journey “a luxury of time.”