Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Way": a father-son film, and an interesting pilgrimage

At the end of April, 2001 I made a two-day visit to Bilbao, Spain, visiting the Guggenheim and staying in a luxury one bedroom suite for $110 a night (before the Euro, Spain was cheap).   I had to take a bus the 60 miles from where the train stopped, in San Sebastian-Donesta.  Later, I took the bus back, walked the circle beach at San Sebastian, and continued on the train into France, and went to Lourdes.  I remember a waiter in Lourdes telling me he was Basque; but I couldn’t tell there was any consistent way to identify people in that group, despite having stayed a few blocks from the ETA headquarters in Bilbao.

In my novel manuscript for “Angel's Brother”, one of my protagonists, the history teacher aka CIA agent makes a trip to Bilbao, where he is mugged and given an artifact related to a coming pandemic, and then he goes to Lourdes and meets “Bill’s” Basque waiter.   The expanded version of the novel had a second trip to recover a sample in the gray-green California-like plateau and mountain countryside south of Bilabo. So an “adventure” or “pilgrimage” movie set in this part of Spain would literally have research value for me. I may need to make another trip to the area.

The new indie film “The Way” takes the movie goer through countryside slightly to the South (across a mountain range) of where I was, on the Camino de Santiago.  An opthamologist Tom (Martin Sheen)  in California gets a phone call that his estranged only son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) has died in a storm in the Pyrenees. When Tom travels to recover the body, he learns that his son was on the pilgrimage to the burial place of St. James in Galicia in northwestern Spain, in a cathedral in the town of Santiago de Compostela.  He decides to make the 500 mile “Adventuring hike”, and the movie becomes a kind of “Canterbury Tales” as he interacts with the other pilgrims.   It starts off slow and uncomfortably, as he has to stay in a dormitory-style (or rather barracks-like) pension in Andorra.  Along the way, he finds little village hostels that cater to pilgrims in dorm-like accommodations with simple home-cooked food.  The route is always marked for the towpath, despite nearby superhighways of modern Spain.

One of the other male pilgrims is an Irish writer (no James Joyce) intending to write a book on the pilgrimage. Tom finally asks him to "tell the truth" in his "damn book" (people called mine that at one time). 

Galicia is a somewhat remote and “conservative” part of Spain, with a coastal climate, largely settled 1500 years ago by Norse people, who help give Spanish people as varied an appearance as those in England.   The cathedral in the film is truly spectacular (as are many shown in the film), and so is the ceremony at the St. James site.  I should also add that, in 2001, before taking the train from Lisbon to San Sebastian, I had taken the bus to Fatima, Portugal, to see the famous shrine that has supernatural overtones, not too far (maybe 200 miles) from the site in this film.  What I remember is the candles (can’t find the pictures right now).

Here is the official site

The film, from Producer’s Distribution Association, Arc, Icon, Filmax and Elixir Films, is being shown right now exclusively by AMC.  On Tuesday night in Shirlington (Arlington) there was a substantial crowd at the $6 special Tuesday price.  The audience was chuckling constantly at the light humor of the dramedy.

The director Emilio Estevez who plays the “ghost” of Daniel (often appearing) is Martin Sheen’s son in real life; the film is definitely a father-son effort.

The film should be compared to the old Pressburger  British MGM “A Canterbury Tale” (reviewed here March 15, 2011) and Matt Damon’s “Running the Sahara” (Nov. 23, 2010 on this blog), as well as the IMAX short "Journey to Mecca" (Jan. 18, 2010).
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. 

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