In 1952, twenty-three year old medical student Ernesto Guevara de la Serna - Fuser to his friends and later better known as 'Ernesto Che Guevara' - one semester away from graduation, decides to postpone his last semester to accompany his twenty-nine year old biochemist friend 'Alberto Granado' - Mial to his friends - on his four month, 8,000 km long dream motorcycle trip throughout South America starting from their home in Buenos Aires. Their quest is to see things they've only read about in books about the continent on which they live, and to finish that quest on Alberto's thirtieth birthday on the other side of the continent in the Guajira Peninsula in Venezuela. Not all on this trip goes according to their rough plan due to a broken down motorbike, a continual lack of money (they often stretching the truth to gain the favor of a variety of strangers to help them), arguments between the two in their frequent isolation solely with each other, their raging libidos which sometimes get ... Written by
The Motorcycle Diaries does a great job of sketching out the character of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, without any pandering to our knowledge of who he will become. There are no cheap shots and only one 'Che' joke-to explain the origin of the nickname, which is a play on the Argentinian accent. It's a deeply felt examination of the events that inspired the development of a political consciousness, with only a few touches of the hagiography that has developed around 'el Che' and those not until late in the film. Gael Garcia Bernal is completely believable and very human in the role, and there's real chemistry between him and Rodrigo de la Serna (any relation?) who plays his friend Granado, leading to a lot of funny moments-important, as ther are many stretches of the movie where it is just them and the scenery. The cinematography is truly gorgeous, and reminded me how little of the South American landscape we ever see on film in the U.S. The cinematographer has pulled off a major feat in shooting a period film in slightly grainy, sometimes shaky hand-held. No crane shots or sepia tinting here-the film quality immerses you in Guevara and Granado's experiences and makes them feel very immediate, without sacrificing any sense of history. A film like this is long overdue, and it deserves wide distribution. While the plot revolves around Che's awakening to the social struggles of South America (which are ongoing) there is a rich sense of place, and people, and beauty here. It seems to me that this is the first South American film in a few years that is not a world-weary documentary about social or political problems (and U.S. involvement in them), to open in the U.S. market. It's about the life of Che, yes, but it doesn't forget the people and problems that lead him into political activity, and will hopefully inspire viewers to pay more attention to what is going on around them, not only in Buenos Aires, Cuzco, Havana or Chiapas, but right next door.
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