The Motorcycle Diaries

Diarios de Motocicleta

© 2004 Ray Wong

THE MOTOCYCLE DIARIES is based on Che Guevara’s journals and Alberto Granado’s memoir about their trip across the South American continent in their twenties. However, you don’t have to be familiar with Che’s life and politics to enjoy this film.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a 23-year-old medical student and Alberto Granado, 29 and a biochemist, are best friends. Granado decides to take a job in Venezuela, and he convinces Guevara to join him on a trip on his beat-up motorcycle before his 30th birthday, trekking across South America from Buenos Aires to Venezuela through the mountainous terrains of Chile and Peru.

As they leave the comfort of their relatively wealthy city life behind, they come across landscapes and cultures that open their eyes and their hearts. The two friends are as different in personality as they are in their world-views: Guevara is a serious, honest-to-a-fault liberal thinker-poet, while Granado is a materialistic, happy-go-lucky kind of guy who would do anything for a lay.

Eventually they see how unfair the world is, and how one person can affect changes, no matter how small these changes are. They start the journey as two boys, and they end it as two men.

“There are no heroic stories,” the narration states. “Just two lives running parallel for a while.”

Bernal (Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) and Rodrigo De la Serna (TEMPOFINAL) have great chemistry together. You can see and feel that their friendship with each other is real, at least on screen. They bicker, they fight, they make up, and they take care of each other. Bernal is great in portraying the young Guevara. His transformation from a naïve lad to a serious thinker is subtle yet sublime. He lights up the screen whenever he is on (and from a dependent source, the Mexican actor speaks with a perfect Argentinean accent). De la Serna holds his own against Bernal, effusing wonderful charisma and a great sense of humor as Granado. Through each other, their characters also develop slowly and effectively.

The rest of the cast is good, giving strong support for the two leads.

Director Salles (BEHIND THE SUN) has created a film filled with grand vistas and subtle moments. His film is introspective and resolute. At times the political views and philosophies are somewhat heavy-handed, but fortunately those moments don’t dominate the film. Eric Gautier’s cinematography of Latin America is breathtaking, making us want to take a trip across the continent as well. The soundtrack, heavy on Latin music, is wonderful.

While the film touches on Che’s political views, philosophies and his change, it is ultimately a buddy movie – a significant testament to a great, lifelong friendship. Rivera’s screenplay is subtle, full of nuance, and understated. There’s no complex plot or grand climaxes, but the emotional impact is genuine. As we get to know these two men and their relationship, the cumulative effect is evident by the end of the film, when they say goodbye to each other. We can’t help but feel the genuine admiration, respect and love they feel for each other. And that makes for a very satisfying experience.

Stars: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna, Mia Maestro, Mercedes Moran
Director: Walter Salles
Writers: Jose Rivera (based on Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s book)
Distributor: Focus
MPAA Rating: R for language


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Sound/Score – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.7 of 10

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