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August 10, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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The New Zealand International Film Festival usually has a designated set of great films that everyone must see because the hype machine internationally has been at fever pitch for them. This year you may have seen them in the form of Che, Red Cliff, Coco avant Chanel or Antichrist. There’re also usually be a couple of films that sneak under everybody’s radar, get good word of mouth and either spark into surprise hits or whimper away without the recognition they deserve.

Camino tells the tale of Camino, an eleven-year-old girl brought up a highly devout Catholic by her exceedingly pious mother, Gloria. When Camino comes down with a disease few ever recover from, Gloria tells Camino to praise God for choosing her. For what, exactly, no character in the film seems to be able to definitively say. She also asks him for strength to survive whatever she’s been chosen for, something she does obediently. Her condition continues to deteriorate—and as it does so, the interest of the Opus Dei rises, the group callously looking to her as a way to get young people interested in the faith by beatifying her once she dies.

For a film that paints an incredibly unflattering portrait of the Opus Dei, both as a religion and as a group of people. Camino’s local priest is a smug bastard who tells her father Fernando it’s all his fault she’s sick, and the hospital chaplain is more concerned with her potential beatification than her suffering. However, Fesser’s presentation of religion isn’t as loaded. Indeed, Fesser drives home the point that, while faith is not a bad thing in and of itself, the way organised religion exploits peoples’ weaknesses and faith in order to advance their own agendas is rife and horrible. After all, compared to Camino’s pure and unwavering faith, and her mother’s crumbling fanaticism as she comes to terms with the reality of Camino’s illness, Opus Dei are monsters, and rightly so.

However, Camino’s true triumph is in the way it manages to overcome the slightly one-sided nature of the above message. It presents a heartbreaking and devastating tale of a childhood cut short by illness. Nerea Camacho is excellent as young Camino, her natural innocence and vibrant eyes work perfectly for the role of an eleven-year-old burdened with the knowledge of her impending death. The supporting actors are all fantastic, particularly Carme Elias as Camino’s fundamentalist mother, and José Ferrer’s exquisite, stylised direction and honest, evocative writing are fantastic in and of themselves.

Camino is a movie everyone needs to see, a cliché though it is. It is simply the best film of the year so far, and anything less than full houses on the nights it ran would have been a travesty.

Written and directed by Javier Fesser
With Nerea Camacho, Carme Elias, Mariano Venancio, Manuela Vellés, Lola Casamayor and Ana Gracia

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