The Motorcycle Diaries
Details: (M), 126 mins, Argentina, English
Synopsis: 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. 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.
It was full of everything you can think of that is worth putting into a movie.
Here\'s the thing: The Motorcycle Diaries is one of those films that make you feel joyful that movies were invented a century ago. And the man who made it? Walter Salles, the Brazilian-born director behind Central Station (1998) and the sublime Behind The Sun (2002). These are the two convictions I was overwhelmed with after viewing Salles\' latest film The Motorcycle Diaries, a luscious biopic about the early life of Che Guevara.
There is certainly no denying that the late Marxist revolutionary is a loaded figure to make a movie about especially now, given that his once revered/reviled image and memory even has, in the Western world at least, been more or less relegated to that of the Che tee shirt. Salles has chosen to make a film that eschews Che\'s pre-tee cultural currency, and also his position as the icon of the 20th century and one of the militant architects of modern communism. Instead Salles imagines Che before he was Che, when he was still Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, the comfortably-off, relatively innocent 23 year-old medical student eager to see the world for the first time.
Set in 1952 and based on several biographies including Che\'s own memoirs - published as The Motorcycle Diaries - this film reveals Che as one of Argentina\'s middle class sons, a young man who battled asthma and had a rich girlfriend. He embarks upon a road trip across Latin America with one of his brother\'s friends, the charismatic 29 year-old Alberto Granado. Mexico\'s primo young actor of the moment Gael Garcia Bernal (Amores Perros, Y Tu Mama Tambien) enacts Che with amazing grace and gusto. And young Argentine actor Rodrigo de la Serna, a distant relation of Che\'s in real life, is Granado, the older, more cynical biochemist.
The two share the screen in perfect synch. De la Serna\'s Granado is the more gregarious figure with an insatiable thirst for every opportunity that comes his way before he turns thirty, by any means necessary as the pair travel bumpy back roads on the back of a notoriously unreliable 1939 Norton 500 motorbike. Garcia\'s Guevara is more introspective but an equal tearaway, a far cry from the earnest, militant, idealist figure Che is known for.
The first half of the film shows these two much akin to today\'s backpacker generation: out for fun, sun, sex and getting really, really hammered.Quietly though Salles creates a keyhole for us to pass through into a much more emotionally rich and complex film. Before our very eyes we bear witness to a portrait of a young person\'s consciousness being born. Ernesto has a social conscience as we learn early on, but other things have taken priority. Slowly we are made to see the world as he does? As his perspective changes on the world around him, so does ours of him. It is a subtle shift but when it hits the effect is a powerful, cathartic cinema experience.
A compassionate gaze is one of the most difficult things to achieve in cinema but Salles has cornered the market. Not only is he one of the best directors working in cinema today, he is also one of the best humanist filmmakers. Emotional manipulation is way too easy in film; Salles instead allows us to see the world as it really is. I believe there is a clarity of vision in his work that is moving beyond words and The Motorcycle Diaries is filled with many such moments and sequences, especially as Ernesto and Alberto move deeper into Latin America.
The Motorcycle Diaries also contains Salles\' signature passion to identify and give a voice to the many cultures and citizens that make up Latin America. In Central Station this was spelt out by the many people who sat before the station letter-writer, Madam Dora, themselves unable to read and write, but proudly declaring where they were from. The Motorcycle Diaries uses more silent but equally potent means to convey the nationalities of the many people Ernesto and Alberto encounter on their eight-month trek across their homeland. That is by silent observation via the camera. Salles has been accused of being uncharacteristically heavy-handed and earnest with this film. No doubt such criticism stems from the emotionally-laden scenes set in the Lima leper colony, as young Ernesto\'s political awareness blooms in earnest. Poppycock.
The Motorcycle Diaries is just very full Of everything that makes human life so fascinating, so disturbing, so affecting and so beautiful. Above all, it was full of everything you can think of that is worth putting into a movie.
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