Film — The Motorcycle Diaries (R)

The Motorcycle Diaries (R)

by Amy Diaz

It’s Road Trip: South of the Border as Ernesto “Not Yet Che” Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado travel through South America in The Motorcycle Diaries.

Based on Guevara’s travel diaries and Granado’s book With Che through Latin America, the movie follows the revolutionaries as young men. Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a 23-year-old medical student nearing the beginning of his professional career. Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) is a young pharmacist looking to cut a swath through the continent (and its female population) before he turns 30. They set off from Guevara’s family home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, first making a pit stop so Ernesto can attempt to woo girlfriend Chichina (Mia Maestro) into waiting for him. Then, the boys head off to Chile, where their rickety motorcycle eventually dies, and Peru, where they work at a leper colony.

Along the way, they have a series of misadventures, most of which come from their lack of money and savvy—though future Communist true believers, both are relatively middle class and a bit naive. But, in grand college-adventure tradition, they have their Experience. They steal and meet people and pick up girls and gamble and get in fights and drink and write letters home. Throw a backpack and a pair of Gap jeans on them and they could be any two BU kids with a Euro pass.

But, in addition to a swell collection of letters for Mama Guevara, the trip also gives Che a new understanding of his country (which, according to a non sequitur speech at the movie’s end, includes all the land from the Rio Grande to the Terra Del Fuego) and the misfortunes suffered by its people.  In his travels, we are told, is the genesis of his future, the beginnings of his revolution.

What, you might wonder, are these seeds of reconstruction? Well, based on the rather Cliff-Note-ish treatment of the movie, Guevara felt that poor people got a raw deal, was a little pissed at the Spanish for destroying Incan civilization and was upset that Chichina broke up with him. I suppose being dumped by a member of the elite is as good a reason as any to become a class warrior.

As a study of Che, he of T-shirt and liberal-poli-sci-student’s-wall-poster fame, the movie is fairly light. It is, however, a lovely survey of South American scenery. That’s less damning than it sounds—seldom has the rugged strange beauty of this section of the continent been given so much fawning screen time.

Though a bit long and dragging at its two hours, The Motorcycle Diaries is nonetheless interesting for its beautiful display of South America in the 1950s, even if it is as part of a smash note to a couple of Castro cronies.

- Amy Diaz 

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