22 May 2024

Movie review - The Way, My Way

From At The Movies, 7:06 pm on 22 May 2024

The Way, My Way is the film of director Bill Bennett's book about how he walked the 800 kilometre pilgrims' walk - the Camino de Santiago. 

The Camino de Santiago is an extraordinary, Spanish phenomenon that seems to have outgrown its medieval, religious origins.

It's an 800-kilometre trek from the border of France to the city of Santiago, where the faithful believe are buried the remains of the Apostle St James - 'Santiago' in Spanish.

But it's far more than that now, according to Australian director Bill Bennett.

He tells us he isn't particularly religious - certainly not when he walked the Camino himself - and wasn't even sure why he became so obsessed with doing it in the first place.

But he did it, he wrote a book about his experience - The Way, My Way - and the book was a big success.

Even then, Bennett had to be bullied into making a movie of it. A movie in which most of the people in the book are played by the people themselves, including his wife, Jennifer Cluff, who also produced the film.

One person played by a real actor was Bennett himself. He brought in veteran Australian actor Chris Hayward to play him.

Though, no offense to Hayward, but there's not a lot of obvious acting going on here. In many ways the filmThe Way, My Way is like every TV travel series since Michael Palin.

Bill keeps denying he's driven by major existential questions as he takes the Walk, but without them, it's essentially one foot in front of the other for hundreds of kilometers.

If this is going to be any sort of traditional movie, we're going to need some pretty exciting travel-mates.

Well - I'm told it's a Camino thing - the Way doesn't really encourage travelling in company.

Although fictional Bill meets real-life walkers Bolosz, Laszlo and Rosa, they don't normally walk together. They do it at their own speed, usually solo, though regularly running into each other along the way.

While this is great for authenticity, it does tend to mean we're invited to connect with people we don't know anything about at the beginning, and not much more about by the end.

This is fine in a book, but, since The Way, My Way is set up as a movie, couldn't it have provided a bit more fictional drama along the way?

This reveals my lack of spirituality, obviously, and I have to concede that even without characters or much in the way of plot, the Way itself is picturesque and restful.

Even if after a while you start to suffer from sympathetic sore feet and aching joints.

To make matters worse for fictional Bill, he falls and seriously injures his knee quite early in the trek. Can he continue, we ask - or at least his companions ask?

Personally I felt this involved a lot more suspension of disbelief than we'd needed up till now. 800K on a dicky knee? Really?

Since we're required to believe a few impossible things, these include slightly more affection for fictional Bill himself than he warrants.

He goes in for a lot of self-deprecating humility in his voice-over, but he always makes sure the other characters are universally enthusiastic about him. That's the great thing about writing all their lines for them, of course.

What's it all for? asks Bill throughout the walk. Does it matter if he doesn't receive blinding flashes of insight and inspiration?

Or is it enough to simply do the walk, to let the journey be the point?

Maybe it was for Bill Bennett - and I'm sure The Way, My Way will strongly appeal to people who've done, or want to do, the time-honoured Camino de Santiago.

But to the rest of us, it's hard to get past another equally old expression... you had to be there.

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