The Motorcycle Diaries


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

The Motorcycle Diaries
"There's an awful lot to recommend."

The choice for the opening night gala at the 2004 Edinburgh International Film Festival is a splendid road movie/coming-of-age tale.

Two young men, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a 23-year-old medical student and Alberto Granado, a 29-year-old, choose to travel across countries and a continent to assist in a leper colony. The story has been adapted from a journal written by the young Ernesto at the time, before he embraced communism and joined in the Cuban Revolution.

Copy picture

The film stops short before this happens and, as such, feels somewhat incomplete, in that we feel manipulated into supporting the character without realising his motivations. We are told what happens, and yet, by design, we only see faint hints at the values which might lead to his political choices.

Director Walter Salles elects to use montage as a means of internal storytelling, in cutting black-and-white elements to show the oppressed peoples in Che's mind. He continues throughout the picture to use editing to contrast our thoughts at given moments, mostly for comic impact.

The diaries begin with the 22-year-old, ironically titled "Mighty One" motorcycle, an old banger which before long claps out. A choice to chapterise the story, using each of the different countries that they cross, lends the film some interesting dynamics, both cinematographically and through the mood of the events and actors. The two central characters bounce off each other verbally and politically. Che's uncompromising honesty is his defining characteristic, while Granado merely wants to recapture much of his youth. Observe the broad strokes that the screenplay paints and the subtlety of Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna's performances. Theirs is a splendid example of screen-commanding acting.

The film has been directed with simplicity in mind. Salles's straightforward approach allows the characters to deepen, while exercising restraint - five minutes of exposition is all we need to start the journey! - ensuring that the narrative does not drag.

Indeed, there's an awful lot to recommend, in particular the longest segment in Peru. Just watch Che change through the journey, look at the lusciously photographed unspoiled landscapes and the time that we share at the colony. There is so much food for the soul that I found myself quietly smiling in admiration for a simple story, well told.

Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2004
Share this with others on...
The Motorcycle Diaries packshot
Coming of age drama based on the writings of a young Che Guevara.
Amazon link

Read more The Motorcycle Diaries reviews:

Amber Wilkinson *****
Caro Ness *****

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

Search database: