MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, THE
In January 1952, the almost 30 year old biochemist Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) and his younger friend, the 23 year old student close to finishing his medical degree, Ernesto Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), set off from Buenos Aires on an old but treasured Norton 500 for an adventure through Latin America. The first part of their journey is more or less as they expected, although the arduous trip takes it toll on The Mighty One as they nickname the motorbike, and it gives up the ghost in Chile, after a nasty encounter with a herd of cows. By the time they get to Machu Pichu, the middle class young men have begun to see Latin America through eyes that have been opened to poverty and oppression, high-handed big business and the sheer hardship of daily life. They find themselves at a leper colony in the Peruvian Amazon, and Guevara, whose speciality is leprology, realises that something fundamental deep inside his being has changed.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In 1956, four years after the events depicted in this film, Ernesto Guevara, along with young Fidel Castro and a few others, 'invaded' Cuba intending to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Two years later the force led by Guevara succeeded in the first socialist revolution in Latin America.
Also in 1956, Hungary erupted in a spontaneous revolution against a regime controlled by communist dictators in Moscow since 1945. As an 11 year old in Budapest at the time, I was conscious of what was at stake, and my world view has been shaped by those years and that event - not least by becoming a refugee from the oppressive communist system. (Somewhat more than two years later, communism collapsed in Hungary as well as the rest of Eastern Europe.)
If it is true that each of us experiences films through the prism of their own personal life experiences - and I believe that it is - then those films that touch on issues of deep-seated personal relevance will resonate more deeply and be seen more uniquely than most other films. This is the case for me with The Motorcycle Diaries, which rang all those 1956 bells. Halfway across the world, the socialist agenda of Che Guevara was trying to relieve the oppressed under the right wing thumb. Ironically, my fellow students were trying to do much the same for people oppressed under a left wing thumb.
No wonder I don't believe in thumbs - either left or right.
It is in this context that I enjoyed The Motorcycle Diaries, because a genuine social conscience is what is at the root of both revolutions. For those oppressed, left or right makes no difference; both are enemies of human rights and personal liberty. Which takes us directly back to George Orwell's Animal Farm, a fable which suggests that nobody can be trusted with power, not the humans on two legs or the pigs on four.
Walter Salles, who won me over with Central Station (1998) as a filmmaker of both sensitivity and power, earthiness and lyricism as required, has imagined this seminal journey by two young men as a road movie where the ultimate resolution takes place off screen, after the film ends, revealed on title cards. You would think this is rather feeble, but Salles does such a fine job of showing us the journey which changes the men, especially Guevara, that it seems not only satisfying but the only way to do it.
Superbly shot and surrounded by veracity in every frame, the central characters move through the amazing and varied landscape first with abandon, then with awareness. The subtlety of Salles is that we are never coerced into forming pre-emptive political assumptions, and the development of Guevara's politicisation is beautifully judged by both the director and by the talented young Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal.
Indeed, one could argue that this is subtlety to a fault, keeping to a minimum the exposure of injustice and oppression that eventually would make Guevara such an active force for change in the region. (Although this image of Che is seriously questioned by some, including, notably, author Paul Berman, who argues that the real life Che was an enemy of freedom, a totalitarian, a believer in the hardline pro-Soviet faction in Cuba, who presided over the revolution's first firing squads and founded Cuba's labour camps.)
With a great score and excellent production design, The Motorcycle Diaries is a fully fledged human drama, filled with the vigour and humour of youth and the depth of idealism, but carried on a tide of visceral human experience.
Review by Louise Keller:
An engaging road movie, The Motorcycle Diaries is a coming of age story of future revolution leader Che Guevara, when he was a young medical student travelling through South America with his biochemist buddy. Walter Salles (Central Station) introduces us to the 23 year-old Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (wonderfully portrayed by enigmatic Gael Garcia Bernal) when he was young and impressionable.
When Ernesto and his friend set off on their travels, they are two ordinary young men intent to conquer the world. Their story could be that of any young men. With its uncluttered emotional heart and richness of setting, we feel as though we too are sitting on the back of the motorcycle that precariously has toppled several times through the journey. This is the first time either Ernesto or his friend Alberto Granado have left Argentina and we watch as their brash innocence is overtaken by the experience life leaves.
Touched by the people they meet, Ernesto and Alberto soon see the world through different eyes. Travel changes them, and soon there is more to life than the adventure tomorrow brings. The most enjoyable thing about The Motorcycle Diaries is its vibrant zest for life. The story of the young Ernesto may have been documented because of the revolutionary he later becomes, but it is this hindsight that gives Salles' film depth. With the highly charismatic and photogenic Bernal as the film's focus, the journey is one worth taking.
Email this article
MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, THE (M)
(Diarios de Motocicletta)
CAST: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mia Maestro
PRODUCER: Michael Nozik, Edgard Tenenbaum, Karen Tenkhoff
DIRECTOR: Walter Salles
SCRIPT: Jose Rivera (based on Diarios de Motocicletta by Ernesto Che Guevara & With Che Through Latin America by Alberto Granado)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Gautier AFC
EDITOR: Daniel Rezende
MUSIC: Gustavo Santaolalla
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Carlos Conti
RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 16, 2004