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THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, 2004
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THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES MOVIE POSTER
THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, 2004
Movie Reviews

Directed by Walter Salles
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna
Review by Chris Johnson



SYNOPSIS:

The Motorcycle Diaries is an adaptation of a journal written by Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna when he was 23 years old. He and his friend, Alberto Granado are typical college students who, seeking fun and adventure before graduation, decide to travel across Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela in order to do their medical residency at a leper colony. Beginning as a buddy/road movie in which Ernesto and Alberto are looking for chicks, fun and adventure before they must grow up and have a more serious life. As is said in the film itself, it's about "two lives running parallel for a while." The two best friends start off with the same goals and aspirations, but by the time the film is over, it's clear what each man's destiny has become.

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Since his murder in a Bolivian jungle in 1967, Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna (or known now more famously as Che Guevara) has been one of the most fervent symbols of rebellion and revolution, he was a key player in Fidel Castro’s “26 July Movement” which seized power in Cuba in 1959.

Charting Guevara’s travels around South America from 4 January to 26 July 1952, Walter Salles’ 'Diarios de motocicleta' (The Motorcycle diaries) is an account based on Guevara’s diaries and also those written by travel companion Alberto Granado. The journals follow their travels through South America, an expedition intended to be a discovery of a continent which theyhad only previously known in books, though for Granado the hope was for more ardent findings. Salles previously won eight international awards for the film 'Foreign Land' (1995), continuing his success by collecting many accolades for his next film 'Central Station' (1998) including two academy award nominations. In addition to working as a director, Salles also works as producer and co-producer for new work by young filmmakers in Brazil, most noticeable being his production credit for the highly acclaimed 'City of God' (2003). Acting as executive producer on 'The Motorcycle Diaries', Robert Redford was contented to work with Salles, citing that he would converge on the “Lyricism and Humanity” of the story.

Gael Garcia Burnal plays Ernesto, the inexperienced 23 year old,rather than the revolutionary ‘Che’ of 31 years whom he depicted in the 2002 mini series 'Fidel', directed by David Attwood. The logged exploration of one of the most infamous South American journeys is not only a charming travel guide but a tale of significant friendship, as Guevara describes in his first diary entry “A glimpse of two lives that run parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.” It is this friendship which is central to converting a diary immersed in the poetry of Guevara’s language which allows the story to blossom on screen. Argentine actor Rodrigo De La Serna plays Alberto Granado, intriguingly he is a second cousin of Che Guevara, a detail Walter Salles failed to realise himself subsequent to the casting process. Granado is the older of the two friends, aged 29 when the journey begins, the expectations of maturity and responsibility toward the journey are ill-founded. From the outset it is inevitable that Ernesto will be emotionally expressive and Alberto the more flippant personality, some

humorous moments arising from his whimsical comments and attitude. As the journey moves into poverty stricken South America such as the baron lands of Chile and deficient cities of Peru, Ernesto and Alberto witness the deprivation and exploitation at first hand. As Redford had hoped, Salles doesn’t overindulge in presenting a pre-revolution ‘Che’, only once does Ernesto demonstrate his anger toward the iniquitous authority’s of Latin America. Observing the impoverished natives at the Chuquicamata mines he protests to an official, subsequently he shows his anger physically when he throws a stone at the truck as it drives away.

The Motorcycle Diaries was originally anticipated as a documentary featuring Granado de la Serna retracing his extensive journey. However in dramatizing the events recorded in both books, Salles endeavored to render the pictures with a documentary style. Shot on 16mm film, a gritty quality to the picture is accomplished, juxtaposing flawlessly the splendor of the rich, unspoilt landscapes and the crudeness of the moving image. Equally the writing corresponds to the setting, Ernesto’s elegant diary extracts complimenting the images, and likewise the scenery flattering the narrative.

In just under seven months the companions traveled 8000 miles, conveying the distance and time plainly in 126 minutes of screen time is a complex task and is occasionally handled awkwardly. Writer José Rivera faced a dilemma in deciding which of the many diary entries to include within his screenplay, furthering the story or humanizing the people could lurch the narrative forward incoherently. In an attempt to let the story flow, the editing gives little away in an efficient and basic breakdown of the scenes, whilst this does prolong interest it occasionally continues hastily despite obvious time inaccuracies.

Adapted from the two books which give the most biased estimations of Ernesto and Granado, the screen version of The Motorcycle Diaries was never intended to be the tales of revolutionaries, it is regarding the discovery of Ernesto as a human rather than an anarchist legend. Guevara is principally identified as a cultural icon, a silhouette of radical defiancein the modern age, in South America we get a taste, barely a flavour of the rebel within.

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