The Way, My Way

This movie was made by an Aussie man called Bill Bennett who did the Camino de Santiago in 2013. 

Bill seems like a nice bloke, albeit a bit unworldly.  He’d never heard of the Camino even though he was a successful journalist and documentary filmmaker in his early sixties.  It was while on holiday in Spain with his wife the year before that he noticed lots of people walking along the road in one direction. 

Intrigued, he stopped and asked some locals.  That’s when he learnt they were pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela, supposedly the burial place of the apostle St James – San Diego or Santiago in Spanish.  It dates back to mediaeval times and there are several approved routes you can take, but the most social and the most fashionable one is the Camino Frances, which starts at St Jean de Port Camino in southern France and winds its way into northern Spain across the far western tip of the Pyrenees.  At this point the mountains don’t look too forbidding, but it’s still an 800km trek and takes about 5 weeks of walking.

This was the one Bill chose.  He wasn’t religious and he had dicky knees, but he decided he was going to do it anyway, for reasons he hoped to discover along the way. 

He wrote a memoir about the experience, which sold quite well.  Then he decided to make the film.  It’s not exactly riveting or action-packed, but it’s interesting the way he went about it.  He’d kept in touch with the people he got closest to along the way, and ten or so years later asked them to play themselves in what is essentially a re-enactment of their pilgrimage. 

All the people we meet are the real deal.  Some of them are the young and fit for whom the Camino is almost a rite of passage these days, even if they know nothing about its history or theology.   But there’s also a pleasing miscellany of the kind of slightly kooky, bee-in-the-bonnet older folks you might expect to meet on such an adventure. 

One soulful young woman grieving over a relationship break-up is played by a professional actress.  Perhaps the real woman is a private person who didn’t want to relive her emotional trauma.  Bill’s wife Jennifer wasn’t afraid to play herself, but she is herself an actress.  The only other character portrayed by a professional is Bill himself, and he’s played by Chris Haywood, whose face you’ll recognise from countless Aussie TV shows.  I wondered about this; Bill’s a good-looking bloke, better-looking than Haywood, I would have thought.  But Bill does a nice line in self-deprecation, and it’s part of the charm of this film. 

There is an art to regaling people with your travel tales and making it interesting and entertaining, and Bill’s enough of a professional to know this.  It’s his story, and the movie is his baby, but having someone else portray him means he takes his place in the storytelling as one of a company of characters, rather than as the self-conscious authorial voice. I was reminded of Robbie Burns’ line about seeing ourselves as others see us.  

This is what saves The Way, My Way from being just a tarted-up, self-indulgent home movie.  It’s endearing the way Bill reveals his own foibles:  his snoring, his physical limitations, his stubborn insistence on using old-fashioned walking aids instead of more useful high-tech stuff.  We see him eventually deferring to the wisdom of younger fellow-travellers in this regard, and his storytelling acknowledges their generosity and forbearance. 

I loved the running joke about the happy snaps.  Bill likes to get group shots when he meets up with his mates along the way.  He’ll hand his camera to a waitress or passerby and ask them to take a pic of them all together at a table, but he has a thing about framing the picture properly, with NOT TOO MUCH HEADROOM!  He gets grumpy when they don’t get it.  I know how he feels.  I can be a bit of a pain in the arse on this score myself. 

Bill’s extracted some charming performances from his amateur cast.  If there’s sometimes a smidgin of artificiality about them, this is compensated for by a refreshing lack of archness in the dialogue.  There’s no sarcasm, no snide remarks, no verbal one-upmanship.  Maybe Bill in his innocence missed all that.  Or just maybe they WERE all warm and wonderful human beings.

The scenery is of course magnificent and Bill’s cinematography does it justice.

I’d never heard of Bill Bennett and even when he describes himself to his fellow pilgrims as a filmmaker it didn’t ring any bells.  Naturally I looked him up afterwards, and among the many documentaries and features he’s made I recognised one notable feature film:  Spider and Rose, an odd-couple road movie from 1994 that starred Ruth Cracknell and Max Cullen.  I haven’t seen it but I suspect it has the same uplifting, heartwarming tone as The Way, My Way.  David Stratton loved it, so I think I might too.   

This is the young Jennifer Cluff. What a babe! She’s actually a film producer now as well as an actress.