REVIEW: DVD Release: The Motorcycle Diaries

Film: The Motorcycle Diaries
Release date: 17th September 2007
Certificate: 15
Running time: 120 mins
Director: Walter Salles
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna, Mercedes Morán, Jean Pierre Noher, Lucas Oro
Genre: Adventure/Biography/Drama
Studio: Film Four
Format: DVD
Country: Argentina/USA/Chile/Peru/Brazil/UK/Germany/France

Director Walter Salles brings Marxist revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ (slang Argentinean word for ‘mate’) Guevara to the mainstream Western audience in this coming of age meets road movie, exploring the events that shaped the thinking of one of Latin America’s best loved icons.

The Motorcyle Diaries is based upon the memoirs of the aforementioned Ernesto Guevara (played by Gael García Bernal), a 23-year old medical student one semester short of graduation, along with best friend and biochemist Alberto Granado (charmingly portrayed by Rodrigo de la Serna), six years Guevara’s senior. Despite the age difference, they are united by their free spirits, and a predilection to the female of the species.

The mavericks’ attitudes are matched only by their ambitious itinerary, which will encompass five countries on a mammoth 8,000 kilometre journey in just four and a half months - a deadline set by Alberto, who intends to celebrate his thirtieth birthday (April 2nd) at their final destination, Venezuela. Their transport is a 1939 Norton 500 Motorcycle, lovingly named ‘La Poderosa’ (‘The Mighty One’) by Alberto, a name which gives personality to the inanimate - we weep with Alberto when she meets her inevitable demise…

Glazing over epic farewells (not one relative is present to say goodbye to Alberto), the film marauds on via the kamikaze driving of the already deteriorating ‘The Mighty One’, toward the dramatic landscapes of the Andes and beyond, shot to perfection by cinematographer Eric Gautier, who delivers stunning imagery throughout.

Initially harmless, and at times comedic encounters help acquaint the audience with its protagonists. Ernesto’s romantic nature is apparent as they visit his girlfriend to say goodbye, meanwhile Alberto’s unflattering appearance rarely deters him from pursuing the attentions of prospective young ladies. Whereas Alberto is happy to manipulate the truth if it helps acquire a bed for a night, Ernesto is quick to rein this in, preferring instead to negotiate food and shelter in exchange for their medical knowledge.

These moments soon give way to episodes that shock Ernesto’s previously idealistic image of the peoples of South America. In one such scene, a couple exiled for their communist beliefs are separated as they search for work with a mining company, run so unethically it riles Ernesto into an argument with the manager. It is in these instants that the unrelenting sorrow and social injustice of the poor help the film achieve exactly what it aspires to.

While Alberto remains a constant comic relief throughout (an exquisitely carried off set piece on a cruise ship is particularly memorable), Ernesto’s thoughts are shaped by the troubles of the impoverished and their daily plights. His character arcs from asthmatic, happy-go-lucky father’s son to egalitarian - the weight of the world on his shoulders acting as a stimulant rather than a hindrance. By the time Ernesto and Alberto reach Peru, where they embark on a three-week work placement at a leper colony, Ernesto’s compassion is flourishing, manifesting itself in the form of a very poignant birthday speech, further accentuated in a reckless yet endearing final act.

Furthering the audience’s identification with our hero, we are made to recall the torment of the people encountered over the course of the film through a series of black-and-white images, bringing an almost historical slant to the final reel.

A well executed and thought provoking adventure, which sheds light not just on the tribulations of Latin America during this time, but the effects on ‘Che’ and the formation of a legend. MC

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