SXSW Film Review – Phil’s Camino
Coming in at just under thirty minutes, Phil’s Camino is too short to really let us connect but also has too little material to make it any longer. Phil Volker is an elderly man who has found out that he is suffering from cancer, and to deal with it he decides to exercise by walking around his land as though he is taking a walking tour through Spain. He counts the miles and pretends he reaches the towns and writes about what would be seeing if he was actually there.
Beyond talking to Phil about what he is going through and what the walk means for him, we also hear from Phil’s wife, who is obviously emotional and very worried about losing her husband of several years. As another reminder of death their old dog is also suffering from cancer. Despite this there is really not that much to this story and it is without a real hook to make us invested in what Phil is going through. In fact his wife is the one we can really get a sense of worry from and can connect with and she only has one or two short interviews.
The directors Jessica Lewis and Annie O’Neil are inspired by this story and feel for the couple but they are lacking a way to make this experience have the emotional heft or visual interest that they want. When Phil actually gets to Spain we do not get any real views of the towns he visits and even less about what kind of effect the trek has on him. There just isn’t enough to keep this subject matter interesting. Even as we see Phil trying to make his goals possible, it doesn’t really pull at our heartstrings in the way we expect it to from a person facing death. Phil gives us a few thoughts about death and life but he is not a person we have a fully gotten to know and his musings do not provide the insight it seems the directors think he has.
It’s a film that has its heart in the right place but didn’t think through what kind of story it wanted to tell. Phil isn’t given the time to really come through to us as a character worth watching, and so his story ends up being random and uninteresting because there is nothing for us to connect to. Despite its hopeful message in a midst of sadness it can never deliver it with the level of gravitas it aims for.