The Motorcycle Diaries

| October 14, 2004

It’s somewhere in the beginning of most reviews for The Motorcycle Diaries that a reference to people wearing Che T-shirts, buttons, bandanas, underwear, and so on, is made. Then a statement is made claiming Che would be rolling in his grave (does he have a grave?) if he would to see how his image has become merchandised. Then I would have to reduce everything to ignorance and claim everyone is a poser, because they’ll tattoo Che’s image on their foreheads, but complain the vending machine at school has run out of their favorite bottled water. THE INJUSTICE!!!
Don’t worry, I won’t do that…
I first have to say I was really disappointed when Terrence Malick dropped out of directing Benicio Del Toro in his Che film to do a Pocahontas movie. WTF?! Man, that would have been an amazing movie. Oh well, now Soderbergh is doing it (from what I last heard) and it should be O.K. However, before that one is released Walter Salles (Central Station) beat them to the punch and hence we have the emerging superstar Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien; Bad Education) as Ernesto Guevara (pre-Che) in the leading role of The Motorcycle Diaries.
Salles does not disappoint. The photography is mesmerizing. Many, many praises to director of photography Eric Gautier for capturing some of the most lavish and aerial images I’ve ever seen. From the snow-covered regions of the Andes to the heaven reaching peaks of the Peruvian mountains, Gautier must’ve had a love affair shooting this film. It’s right on par with Werner Herzog’s El Dorado voyage, Aguirre, The Wrath of God.
Bernal portrays an early twenties Che (Ernesto Guevara) on an epic journey through South America that would come to be the experience that would mold and configure the revolutionary ideals of Latin American rebels. It’s not only a coming of age story of one of the 20th centuries iconic figures, but also of an entire continent. Some of the complaints I’ve heard of the film refer to its Hollywoodization, meaning, we get to see all the good with added heroic elements of the leading character, but none of the flaws and mistakes he was sure to have like his trip companion, Alberto Granado. It appears there was a very deliberate focus to not present Che without any criticism.
Ultimately the Motorcycle Diaries is a very good film, with extraordinary cinematography and another strong performance by Bernal, but the glorification of Ernesto Guevara feels misleading and unfair to those of us who truly are interested in who he was and what he meant to Latin America.

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