Camino (Nerea Camacho) is a bouncy 11 year old girl whose happy, God-focused life in Madrid is spent between her religious school and a home dominated by her pious but authoritarian mother, Gloria (Carme Elias). Her family are members of Opus Dei, the controversial Catholic organisation founded by Spain's recently-canonised Jose Maria Escriva. Camino falls in platonic love with Cuco (Lucas Manzano) at a school theatre group. But young love is thwarted when the back pains that have been troubling her turn out to have a serious origin - and she is forced to undergo a barrage of tests, operations and radiation therapy sessions that eventually leave her bedridden, immobilised and blind. Camino's older sister Nuria (Velles), meanwhile, is living as a novitiate in an Opus Dei house. Only Camino's father, Jose (Mariano Venancio), gives her pure affection untainted by religious dogma.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The oddly perverse lives that are twisted out of shape by the extremes of Christian belief systems are sometimes the stuff of which saints are made, and young Camino's is such a life. Unintentionally satirical and brutally so for its matter of fact portrayal of the least humane aspects of the Opus Dei, Camino is dedicated to and inspired by the life and death young Alexia Gonzales (currently being considered for sainthood). It has enthralled Spanish audiences and critics. I'm not sure it has the same impact elsewhere, where its flaws may be magnified by the psychological and cultural distances. It has quite a few flaws, but also much to recommend it.
Nerea Camacho is a pretty young actress who gives a mostly first class performance (except when she is allowed to register special interest by widening her eyes in a hammy attempt at facial acting). Her most moving and powerful scenes are also the most traumatic; there are many of them.
Carme Elias is formidable as Gloria (what else), the pious mother whose excessive idea of faith in Jesus has so blinded her that she is risible in her willingness to let her daughter suffer because that's what Jesus wants. She doesn't ever ask herself why Jesus would want to do such an evil thing to a girl who is so devoted to him. Camino, finally does ask, though. All Gloria can do is endlessly thank God for her daughter's illness, because it gives them all a chance to really, really prove they love Him by offering up all their agonies to Him.
It's only Camino's father, Jose, subtly played by Mariano Venancio, who can see through the hollow piety to the human tragedy - though he is too weak to do much about the situation. And God has even more plans for this family to show its absolute faith in him.
As if these themes needed it, a heavy handed, weeping strings-infested score exaggerates the spiritual tone so that we are in cathedral mode pretty much all the way - which is a long time at 143 minutes, in what is essentially a one-note drama. You'll have to excuse the excessively long and schmaltzy ending, too, followed by a contrived coda. Don't mind me, though, I'm a fallen angel.
Review by Louise Keller:
Winner of 6 Goya Awards, this beautifully crafted but disturbing film tells its story about faith, love and death with claustrophobic potency. It’s a heartbreaking story whose elements often make us feel as though a knife has been thrust in our chest and twisted. Based on a true story, director Javier Fesser has written a complex and multi-layered screenplay about an eleven year old girl from an overtly religious family who displays saintly selflessness and faith in God as she suffers from a fatal illness. The film is like no other, but there are some parallels with The Magdalene Sisters in that it displays the iron fist that fanatic Catholicism promotes and also with Pan’s Labyrinth, in which fantasy is used as an escape from shocking reality. At the heart of the story is a beautiful flower by the name of Camino whose love and enthusiasm for life is infectious. There is no questioning the cinematic power of this film, although it must be said it is tough viewing with relentless distressing scenes and themes.
When the story begins, we meet Camino (Nerea Camacho) on her deathbed, surrounded by family and friends. The story then picks up five months earlier when we meet Camino as a beautiful, fun-loving school girl with a healthy attitude to life. Home life, as members of the Opus Dei, devoting themselves to God within their daily lives, is strict and filled with prayer. Her well-intentioned but misguided mother Gloria (Carme Elias) who loves her for all the wrong reasons, is the family’s driving force, “sowing the seeds” of the Christian home and instilling fanaticism (‘Never waste a chance to tell Him you love Him’). Guilt and faith are intertwined. When Camino chooses a children’s book called Mr Meebles, her mother insists on buying one about Saint Bernadette. It is reassuring that Camino’s father José (Mariano Venancio) loves her for all the right reasons and their relationship seems ‘normal’. Gloria has hopes for Camino that she follows in her sister Nuria’s (Manuela Vellés) footsteps in the church. Nuria, who once had the promise of a different life – with a handsome actor –now blinkered to her new life at the convent with God.
Camino’s hopes to join the school theatre group with Cuco (Lucas Manzano), the boy on whom she has a crush, die in an instant when she becomes ill. The two youngsters have an intangible connection, which is portrayed in a stunning fantasy sequence towards the film’s end. All the performances are extraordinary, especially Camacho as the angelic Camino, whose beauty and grace only seem to make the story even harder to bear. I can only assume that the graphic nature of the operation scenes has symbolic inference. There’s an affecting juxtaposition between the theatre where Cinderella is being played and the scene at the hospital which embodies the theatre of death. Many will find this film impossible to sit through; others will relate to its authenticity in its depiction of faith.
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CAST: Nerea Camacho, Carme Elias, Mariano Venancio, Manuela Vellés, Angela Boj, Fernando Carrera, Mercedes Castro
PRODUCER: Luis Manso, Jaume Roures
DIRECTOR: Javier Fesser
SCRIPT: Javier Fesser
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alex Catalàn
EDITOR: Javier Fesser
MUSIC: Rafael Arnau
PRODUCTION DESIGN: César Macarrón
RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Valhalla
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 9, 2009