The Motorcycle Diaries


Reviewed by: Caro Ness

The Motorcycle Diaries

This was chosen as the opener for the 2004 Edinburgh International Film Festival and what a wonderful choice! Everyone should see it at least once and, failing that, definitely include it in your DVD collection.

A 23-year-old medical student, named Ernesto Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), and his friend, a bio-medical technician, named Alberto Granada (Rodrigo de la Serna), realise that despite the fact their education has taught them about Europe, they know nothing of their own continent and so decide, while they are young enough to enjoy it and free from the responsibilities of family or work, that they will travel the length and breadth of South America.

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Jose Rivera adapted the script from Guevara's Notes De Viejo and Granada's Con Et Che Par Latino America, written before Ernesto joined the Cuban revolution and became the Che Guevara of legend.

The film ends with the two friends parting, Alberto to begin a job and Ernesto to begin the road to notoriety. It might be argued that this makes the film feel unfinished and yet I believe that stopping it there is enough. We all know a little about Che and what he stood for, even if we don't know his complete history.

The Motorcycle Diaries gives an interesting insight into the journey of the soul. We see two detached young men - in Alberto's case, he just wants to find a woman in every country, or, better still, every village - who see social injustice wherever they go, develop an unwavering compassion for their fellow men, particularly the outcast lepers of Peru and, in Che's case, a burning desire to try to do something about it.

The film begins with them leaving Buenos Aires on Alberto's rickety old motorbike, a Norton 500, ironically named La Poderosa, or The Mighty One, which eventually gives up the ghost, after which they continue the journey on foot.

Brazilian director Walter Salles (Central Station, Behind The Sun) breaks their journey into several segments, or narrative chapters, to indicate the boundaries they cross - not merely physical, but mental and emotional also - as they move from country to country, town to town. By using montage as a means of advancing the story and by cutting in black-and-white elements to show social injustice and oppression, we begin to inhabit Ernesto's mind and understand what drove him to communism and the desire to unite the peoples of Latin America.

These segments are cinematically stunning, full of the most wonderful photography of magnificent scenery and extraordinarily beautiful people. Ernesto and Alberto are dominant, so that minor characters seem to be there for the sole purpose of advancing our understanding of Che's uncompromising honesty and visionary aspirations and Alberto's determination to cling onto youth for as long as possible. The performances of Bernal and Serna are utterly compelling and totally absorbing - subtle, towering achievements.

If I could give this film 10 stars I would, for humour, humanity, glorious photography, a narrative that never drags and which you never want to end. It is a simple story about an extraordinary man and his friend, extraordinarily well told.

Reviewed on: 12 Mar 2006
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Coming of age drama based on the writings of a young Che Guevara.
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Read more The Motorcycle Diaries reviews:

Amber Wilkinson *****
Scott Macdonald ****

Director: Walter Salles

Writer: Jose Rivera, based on books by Che Guevara and Alberto Granado

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mia Maestro, Mercedes Moran, Jean Pierre Noher, Lucas Oro, Franco Solazzi, Ricardo Diaz Mourelle, Marina Glazer, Sofia Bertolotto

Year: 2004

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Argentina/Chile/Peru/US


EIFF 2004

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