Thursday, October 29, 2015
Road to La Paz (orig. Camino a La Paz) 
The Hollywood Reporter (J. Holland) review
Road to La Paz (orig. Camino a La Paz)  [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]* (written and directed by Francisco Varone [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]*) is an Argentinian "odd couple" / "road movie" that played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.
Sebastián (played by Rodrigo De la Serna [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]*) is introduced to us as a un(der)employed 20-something, approaching 30-something resident of Buenos Aires residing with a lovely/kind/already live-in "struggling actress" girlfriend Jazmín (played by Elisa Carricajo [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]*) who'd really like to start a family and (gasp) get married.
Yes, the couple's "order of things" does drive many of us in my profession - a Catholic priest - to some distraction. But as the recent Synod of Bishops (convoked by Argentine born Pope Francis I) noted, many young people all across the world see marriage today as essentially _confirming_ a stable life together that often enough they struggle for many years to achieve (2015 Synod of Bishops, Working Document, para. 80-85). Now the Synod of Bishops has just met (Oct 2015), and its recommendations have not yet been published, let alone the Pope's final document (by-and-large but not necessarily taking their recommendations into account) on the matter. However, it is noteworthy that the Bishops' working document recognized the problem.
Unable _to find_ a serious / dignified full-time job that could send him and his girlfriend in the direction that she was hoping for, Sebastián decides to do what many young people all over the world have been doing in recent years in similar circumstances: He decides to _to create_ employment for himself out of his skills / resources he has at hand. Basically, he had a cell phone and a small car that he inherited from his dad. So he created a one-man "Über-like" service in Buenos Aires that he called "Magellan" (after the Spanish explorer who first circum-navigated the globe -- a rather "impressive vision" indeed, born no doubt out of his (still) "youthful optimism" / humor.
Well, he does this for a couple of weeks, and it actually seems to bring in some decent money. THEN, however, he gets "a special Call" ...
... from an elderly gentleman named Khalil (played by Ernesto Suárez [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]*) who had hired him to take him on a random errand a few days previous. Khalil now wanted to hire Sebastián to drive him to La Paz (in Bolivia !!).
Kahkil explains to him that his health is such that he could neither fly nor take the bus to make the journey and hence he needed someone like him, who he did understand to be something of a freelancer, to take him there.
Sebastián is, of course, taken aback. Beyond the time / distance involved, he knew La Paz, Bolivia's capital city, though with a population of roughly a million people, was situated high up in the Andes Mountains (the city's elevation averaging at about 12,000 ft, making it the highest altitude capital in the world) and the roads getting there were probably going to be punishing for his very little (and ONLY) car (around which _he created_ his little but finally income producing job). So he asks for a few days to think about it.
Of course, Sebastián decides to take the gig. Both circumstances (bills to pay and Khalil was, in fact, offering significant and frankly appropriate monetary compensation) and, again, "youthful optimism" collude to inspire him to say "yes" to this "once in a life time" request. And much ensues ...
I'm not going to write more about what all ensues, because I do hope that the film will find at least limited "in art theaters" / "on DVD/BlueRay" release.
As his name suggests, Khalil is, of course, an elderly Muslim. What Khalil asks of Sebastián is to help him take "the first leg of his journey to Mecca" (Khalil, who is nearing his end, is setting-off on his Hajj, the "once in a lifetime" pilgrimage that all Muslims are to make to Mecca. He tells Sebastián that he has a similarly elderly brother in La Paz and together then, they are going to go from La Paz Bolivia, down to Lima, Peru (by some kind of truck, his brother has all that arranged) and then BY SHIP to Mecca. Khalil simply needs Sebastián to take him as far as La Paz. But even that "first leg" to "La Paz" (which OF COURSE in Spanish means "PEACE" (!!)) is one heck of a journey. And so ... the film ...
Now one remarkable thing about this film is, of course, that it is an ARGENTINIAN film about an elderly Muslim teaching a young (presumably Catholic) Argentinian a little about the Muslim faith. So the presentation in the film is _quite different_ and certainly more "baggage free" than it would be if the film was made in the United States. As such, viewers get to appreciate why someone would want to be a Muslim, and indeed, why Khalil, again an elderly person who lived his whole life as a Muslim, WOULD BE PROUD TO BE SO.
It's a lovely, lovely film about a journey "toward peace" that would certainly be unforgettable for anyone who took it. As a minor spoiler alert, and only because a fair amount of WESTERN viewers would probably refuse to watch it otherwise, NO, Sebastián DOES NOT become a Muslim by the end of the film. But he certainly learns a lot more about Muslims as a result of his journey with Khalil and will certainly TREAT MUSLIMS (and their faith) with far greater kindness / knowledge afterwards.
An excellent film!
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