Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Walter Salles
Stars: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna.
A sort of Latin-American Easy Rider? In 1952 two young Argentinean medical students embarked on an ambitious 8000km trip through South America, ostensibly to see their country before settling down to their chosen careers. It was an epic motorcycle journey across South America, which ultimately changed both their lives and the political landscape of Latin America. The social divisions and obvious injustices they witnessed during this journey of self-discovery, and their work with a leper colony, helped to shape and redefine much of Latin American politics in the late 50s and early 60s.
One of the young men was Alberto Granado (played by Argentinean theatre veteran Rodrigo de la Serna), a bio-chemist. The other was 24 year old Ernesto Guevara (played by the hunky Gael Garcia Bernal, best known for his role in the Mexican coming of age drama Y Tu Mama Tambien), who later became known as “Che” Guevera, the famed revolutionary who helped Castro liberate Cuba and who became an iconic figure for revolution for a generation of dissatisfied and rebellious youth.
Based on the diaries written by both Guevara and Granado during their journey, this is a sublimely subtle political treatise that explores Guevara’s nascent revolutionary awakening. Part biography, part intimate look at male bonding and friendship and part travelogue, The Motorcycle Diaries is a beautiful looking film, featuring lush, visually sumptuous visuals from cinematographer Eric Gautier (Intimacy, etc). Director Walter Salles (Central Station, etc) has a real sense of empathy with these two characters and for South America as a whole, and his compassionate treatment of the material enriches the film enormously. There is a great deal of humour throughout, and it is easy for the audience to warm to these two adventurers as they leave behind the comfortable world they know and journey into a world beyond their experience.
The two leads develop a genuine affinity that allows for an easy-going rapport between them, which shapes the movie and the relationship. De la Serna brings some nice comic touches to his character, while Bernal brings a sympathetic reading to his character and successfully portrays him as a romantic rather than the revolutionary he later became. Even though his sensitive reading of the character avoids the trap of cult worship and fawning adulation towards his larger than life reputation, Bernal’s symapthetic and soulful performance is a far cry from Omar Sharif’s rather flat portrayal in Che! thirty years ago.