Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Winner is The Way

The Oscar's awards ceremony, in all its glitz and panache, is an annual celebration of box office winners. Here's a thumbs up to a movie I saw recently that I thought was a brave attempt to do an honest, human and uplifting story with little melodrama, no special effects, no twisted glorying in violence, sex or the worst of human traits. The title of the movie -- The Way -- gives a hint of its appeal to spiritual seekers or those among us who are just plain tired of being hammered about the head with the crassness of slick, seamless, vanilla storytelling. Given that the main favorite in tonight's best film category is a French silent, black and white movie called The Artist, there must be many in the film world today who feel the same way. The Way, a small, personal, literally off-the-beaten-path type of film is, like The Artist, harking back to a past, only a past that does not include many of the accouterments of modern technology nor the comforts many of us take for granted in our daily lives.
A collaboration between long-time Hollywood stalwarts Emilio Estevez and his father Martin Sheen. the movie tells the story of a California opthalmologist who travels to Spain to recover the remains of his son who has died on the first day of backpacking across northern Spain along the ancient trail known as El Camino, or The Way, to the cathedral of St. James. The Martin Sheen character, distraught and sick of the pretensions and emptiness of his Southern California golf club life, sets out to complete the journey to honor his son's memory and perhaps to find a reason to live for himself. On the way he befriends an odd assortment of pilgrims, all on the path for personal reasons. The three month journey draws them together despite their differences, as they learn to overcome their personal and cultural ticks. Each of them has a different stance on the faith necessary to finish their respective hikes, but each is touched and changed in an important way by the end. It's a sort of quasi-documentary riff on the Wizard of Oz theme, with an over the hill, grumpy, but quintessentially Martin Sheen-like American innocent as Dorothy. The main character is of course the pilgrimage itself -- the beautiful Basque country and the baroque, fantastic cathedrals of Burgos and Santiago de Compostela.  I can't say it's the winner of any particular category, but anybody who sees it will feel like they've won.
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