out of 4
All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
The Motorcycle Diaries
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna|
Director: Walter Salles Jr.
RunTime: 128 Minutes
Release Date: September 2004
|*Also starring: ||Mia Maestro, Mercedes Moran, Jorge Chiarella, Jaime Azocar, Sofia Bertolotto, Ulises Dumont, Facundo Espinosa, Susana Lanteri, Jean Pierre Noher, Gustavo Pastorini||
Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
The Motorcycle Diaries" details the eye-opening, life-changing seven-month
trip through South America that 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara De la
Serna, later to be known as Che and become the leader of the Cuban
Revolution, took with 29-year old pal Alberto Granado in 1952. As
a biopic of the revolutionary, the film, directed with loving visual
detail by Walter Salles, is unenlightening. Save for the concluding
footnotes about what happened to Guevara following his odyssey, no
information is given about his future life, nor are there many signals
as to who he would ultimately become. Political and historical statements
are kept at a minimum, and when they do arrive they lack much power.
Those walking into the picture hoping for an education on Guevara's
work will leave malnourished and not knowing much more than they already did.
Putting aside its non-fictional roots and viewing it as simply a road
movie, however, "The Motorcycle Diaries" is impassioned, aesthetically
dazzling, and never less than a spellbinding entertainment. As a medical
student in Buenos Aires, Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) puts aside his
studies on the eve of his final semester and hits the road with Granado
(Rodrigo De la Serna), a busted-up old motorcycle their form of transportation.
What is supposed to take four months eventually stretches to seven,
as they travel through Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela in all
kinds of weather—sun, rain, and snow. When their motorcycle finally
dies out, they turn to hitchhiking, boarding a boat, and using a raft.
Director Walter Salles puts the audience squarely in the shoes of
his two protagonists, and the results are gripping. For the viewer,
it genuinely feels as if he or she is taking a trip through South
America, meeting the diverse citizens of the countries, witnessing
the gorgeously lush sites, and going through all of the experiences
and pitfalls that Guevara and Granado do. In an ingenious move that
brings reality and immediacy to the proceedings, lifting the film
above the conventions of a mere road picture and into the realms of
a true-to-life travelogue, "The Motorcycle Diaries" was filmed in
order and on-location at all of the places Guevara and Granado visited.
The cinematography by Eric Gautier is stunning, to say the least,
vivid and picturesque and no doubt aided by the pure beauty of the
South American cities and countryside. When need be, Gautier's lens
turns starker to show the societal darkness and poverty that goes
along with parts of the continent, although this aspect could have
afforded being showcased more for Guevara's climactic catharsis to
hold the impact it intends. Save for a couple encounters with the
homeless and an elongated stop in the third act where Guevara and
Granado volunteer at a leper colony, the patients segregated from
the workers by the length of the Amazon River, the countries do not
appear as sad and downtrodden as they should. Because of this, Guevara's
statement at the end that he has changed by the "injustice" he has
witnessed is unpersuasive. It is not that Guevara's real-life journey
couldn't have had such an effect on his life, but that its treatment
within this filmic version does not satisfactorily cement such an assertion.
Based on the journals of Che Guevara and a book by Alberto Granado,
"The Motorcycle Diaries" is an intoxicating voyage through places
rarely captured in cinema with such a degree of depth and distinctness.
If the film isn't entirely successful at bringing home the points
it wishes to make, the trip itself and its look at the people Guevara
and Granado meet along the way—many of them women Granado is constantly
trying to pick up—are entirely rewarding. Gael Garcia Bernal (2001's
"Y tu mama tambien") and newcomer Rodrigo De la Serna (a descendant
of Guevara's) deliver faultless performances as the two men, each
getting something different out of their journey and with different
degrees of influence. "The Motorcycle Diaries" is simple yet ruminative,
deliberately paced but always fully enthralling. In other words, it
is like going on an invaluable 8,000 mile vacation for the affordable
price of a movie ticket—well worth the ten dollars.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman
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