Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Camino: children suffering for Opus Dei

Jesús Te Ama

Director Javier Fesser’s Spanish film Camino (The Way) evoked anger and pathos in me in equal measures.

Eleven-year-old Camino (Nerea Camacho) is increasingly hospitalised by a serious illness. Her greatest wish is to join a drama group where she has met her heart’s desire Cuco (Lucas Manzano). Her mother Gloria (Carme Elias) is a dedicated lay member of Opus Dei (Work of God) who believes that the end justifies the means with regard to her ambitions for her daughters. Her husband José (Mariano Venancio) is powerless, and increasingly alienated from his wife and church. Camino’s older sister Nuria (Manuela Vellés) is an Opus Dei numerary who lives a celibate existence in one of their highly controlled centres, much like a nunnery. She is subjected to mortification (self harm) when she puts small stones in her shoe. Suffering for Jesus.

It is hard for someone brought up a Catholic to view this film without lots of baggage. Nine years under the Jesuits was enough education to lead me away from the mysterious ways of mother church. Though they prided themselves as the religious intelligentsia, the Society of Jesus always fell back on faith when their reasoning failed. To Opus Dei faith explains everything. It is quite a different institution with its belief in the sanctity of everyday life and work and the conviction that we can all become saints. Their beliefs and rituals seem incredibly bizarre without the crutch of faith.

Camino is probably for everyone except hard-core Opus Dei:
  • true believers in a Middle Ages version of Christianity;
  • those who reject organisations such as Opus Dei but retain their faith;
  • and those who do not capitalise god.
The old cliché that we see what we believe seems to apply here.

It is based on a real story, that of 14-year-old Alexia González-Barros who died in 1985 and awaits canonisation. If you believe in offering our children’s suffering to god, then Camino’s life makes lots of sense. If you don’t then you may be outraged by what takes place in this story.

Fesser believes that he has made a non-judgmental work based on his exploration of similar cases:

“All these characters, however, have in turn led me to discover other stories, much closer to home, which have allowed me to recreate faithfully and with great precision the medium in the midst of which all this takes on a special meaning: the Opus Dei.

Camino is meant to be a story told from an objective angle, free from prejudiced or stereotyped mindsets. A film which regards reality with a generous gaze, without judging it. Rather like an x-ray image. And this is precisely the reason for this film's bold, closely focused and severe quality.”

I doubt that the followers of Opus Dei would agree with him. In fact there is a lot of negative criticism on the web.

To solve these difficult metaphysical conundrums, Mr Meebles comes to the rescue. He is one of Camino’s favourite picture book characters. He has everything but has one problem. He doesn’t exist. A metaphor for god no doubt! A critique of the ontological argument for the existence of god will have to wait for another time.

With its dream world elements this is a fairy tale in many ways. I was sucked into the story despite initial distaste for the subject matter. Its sentimental plot borders on the telenovela with:
  • pubescent love
  • hospitals with graphic operations
  • secrecy and intrigue
  • suspense and misunderstandings
  • and of course contrived coincidences
There is even confusion over names.

It has its own charismatic villain. In this case Opus Dei priest Don Miguel Ángel (Pepe Ocio) uses the required mixture of charm and persuasion to manipulate his flock. The black frocked vultures circle as the possibility grows of Camino becoming an Opus Dei Saint Bernadette.

The cast does an exceptionally good job, with the children standing out of course. It's too long and could have been more tightly edited.

Keep an open mind. It’s worth going along to see the powerful affirmation of innocence in this murky world of god’s works.

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