MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, THE (Diarios de motocicleta)
(director: Walter Sallers; screenwriters: Jose Rivera/from the books “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Ernesto Che Guevara and “With Che Through Latin America” by Alberto Granado; cinematographer: Eric Gautier; editor: Daniel Rezende; music: Gustavo Santaolalla; cast: Gael García Bernal (Ernesto Guevara de la Serna), Rodrigo de la Serna (Alberto Granado), Mía Maestro (Chichina Ferreyra), Jorge Chiarella (Dr. Bresciani), Mercedes Moran (Celia de la Serna), Jean Pierre Noher (Ernesto Guevara Lynch); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Edgar Tenembaum/Michael Nozik/Karen Tenkhoff; Focus Features; 2004-USA/UK/Argentina/Germany-in Spanish with English subtitles)
“Left me less than sated and unprepared for its apolitical stance on a subject who was known for his leftist radicalism.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director Walter Salles (“Central Station”/”Behind the Sun”) and executive producer Robert Redford present a touristy travelogue adventure in the preradicalized days of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara (before he dubbed himself as Che) with this visually stunning but lightweight road movie, one that left me less than sated and unprepared for its apolitical stance on a subject who was known for his leftist radicalism. It’s taken from a screenplay by Jose Rivera that is based on the books The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto (Ché) Guevara and Traveling with Ché Guevara by Alberto Granado. Most of the story is taken from Granado’s book, which might explain why the politics was softened. It revels in the so-called motorcycle road-trip; the motorcycle, named La Poderosa, is a sputtering machine that is always “pissing oil” — a 1939 Norton 500 that is abandoned due to a breakdown in Chile less than halfway through the adventure (the movie also suffers from a breakdown at that point, as it begins to sputter out wishy-washy platitudes to the unfortunate natives the duo contacts without digging in to the causes of the social unrest during the 1950s). The dynamic duo continue on foot and by hitch-hiking, and do their medical thing by volunteering their services in a Peruvian Amazon leper colony run by nuns. This moment of serious devotion comes after they spend most of their trek trying to pick up chicks, hustle for meals and places where to sleep.
The pair from middle-class families were aspiring Argentinian medics – the earnest but droll 23-year-old delicately featured medical student Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (Gael Garcia Bernal) and, the animated bullshitter, the 29-year-old biochemist Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna). The adventure took them through South America (Argentina, Chile, and Peru) in 1952. By the end of their journey a more serious and soul-searching Ernesto, who learned first-hand the evils of capitalism on the landscape and the indigenous peoples of the continent, yearns to be useful and comments “[I’m] not the same me I was …” Ernesto received a medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires in 1953. In 1954 he became certain that revolution was the only solution for Latin America’s social inequities and went to Mexico, where he joined exiled Cuban revolutionaries under Fidel Castro. In the late 1950s, he fought as a freedom fighter in Castro’s guerrilla war against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and when Castro came to power, he served as Cuba’s minister of industry (1961-65). He influenced the Castro regime on its leftward and pro-Communist path.
Fame came to the radicalized duo eight years after their South American trek, not seeing each other again until they met in Cuba in 1960 – Guevara now known as ‘Che’, iconic saint of Castro’s revolution; Granado as one of the planners of the island’s much ballyhooed health system. Guevara’s journal was published in 1994 (27 years after his death at the hands of the CIA in Bolivia, where he was an insurgent leader) and translated into English in 1995 as The Motorcycle Diaries. Granado’s memoir was first published in Spanish in 1978 (though in his eighties, he’s still active in the Castro regime as its health minister).
The result is a well-meaning but empty film (though positively beautiful to look at) affirming a fuzzy liberal idealism without getting inside Guevara’s head, as it spends its time leisurely cruising along the stunningly gorgeous country sides with the asthmatic Ernesto as he becomes politicized after meeting homeless farmers and assorted disenfranchised workers with haunting looks.
REVIEWED ON 12/15/2004 GRADE: C