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:: The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

Directed by Walter Salles (Central Station), The Motorcycle Diaries is a visually and emotionally striking film which follows the young Ernesto Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado in their travels around Latin America in 1952. Just six years later, and partially inspired by this road trip, Che would lead Cuba to revolution.

Adapted from the book “Con el Che por America Latina” by Guevara and Granado (who remained lifelong friends), The Motorcycle Diaries begins in Argentina. Ernesto is an idealistic final-year medical student and Alberto is a hedonistic biochemist. Together they clamber on a dilapidated motorcycle and attempt to circumnavigate South America – the journey of a lifetime.

At first, the two are reprobates – charming food and motorcycle repairs out of the locals, and sleazing on the women. (It’s here that Ernesto’s first called Che – a name given to Argentineans by other Latin Americans.) But as their journey continues and their pace slows, Che and Alberto begin to see more of the injustices perpetrated against indigenous South Americans. One of the most powerful demonstrations of this is their boat journey in Peru. While our heroes socialise in relative luxury with other passengers of European origin on the ship, a rusty barge follows which carries the indigenous passengers – crowded on hammocks beneath an open canopy.

Although the two’s transition from rascals to socialists is well handled, the film becomes less subtle in its latter stages. The 126 minutes running time also becomes noticeable at this time, particularly at the leper colony.
Charismatic young actor Gael García Bernal (Y tu mama tambien) is well-cast as Che, and the humorous rapport between him and Alberto (Rodrigo De la Serna) gives the perfect foreground to Eric Gautier’s stunning cinematography. I particularly liked the grainy photography and the heightened use of colour, though the footage did get a bit choppy at times.

While you can appreciate The Motorcycle Diaries simply as a travel film, it’s more than that. It illuminates the apartheid existing in Latin America at the time through Che and Ernesto’s encounters with market sellers, impromptu tour guides and disenfranchised families. Screenwriter Jose Rivera is also careful to differentiate between the various ethnicities which comprise Latin American indigenous culture – which is highlighted by the final montage of black and white images of all that fuelled Che’s revolutionary fever.