Motorcycle Diaries, The

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 09/24/04 14:39:06

"A road trip well worth taking."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Before becoming "Ché," an icon of the Cuban Revolution, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was a medical student in his native Argentina, studying the treatment of leprosy and tropical disease. In 1952, at the age of 23, he and his good friend Alberto Granado, a gregarious 29 year old biochemist who wanted to sow his wild oats before turning 30, embarked on what was to be a grand tour of South America on an ancient Norton motorbike they christened "La Ponderosa" (The Mighty One). As depicted in this engaging and visually stunning recreation of Ernesto's own diaries and Alberto's remembrances, it turned out to be a 12,000 km odyssey of discovery that played a large part in shaping the destiny of both men's lives.

On New Year's Day 1952, Ernesto (Gael García Bernal) and Alberto (Rodrigo De la Serna) set off looking for adventure, with no more in mind than to explore their continent in style, make new friends and lovers along the way, and -- for the fun-loving Alberto -- dance the tango that he loves. When the bike breaks down, they continue their journey on foot or by hitching rides, scrounging their way slowly from Argentina through Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. By the time they arrive at their destination, a leper colony on the banks of the Amazon, they have become badly shaken, and their priorities for playing pranks and picking up girls seriously dampened, by the poverty and social injustice they encounter in every village throughout their travels.

Far from being a political movie, though, director Walter Salles, screenwriter Jose Rivera, and cinematographer Eric Gautier have joined forces to craft a lovely film that is at once a sumptuous travelogue, a lively and humorous road adventure, and a moving coming-of-age drama about two carefree young buddies who find their romanticized notions challenged and their perspectives shifted as their eyes are opened to the reality of the world around them.

While the seeds that made Che the revolutionary he became are apparent, here the focus is on the idealistic young Ernesto who compassionately ministers to a dying old woman, giving her his own asthma medicine; who finds a much worthier home for the $15 he has been hoarding for a girlfriend's bathing suit; who, in keeping with his name, earnestly tells a generous doctor what he really thinks of his first novel; and who defies a long-standing ban against physical contact with the lepers by being the first person to shake their hands and care for them without wearing protective gloves.

Guevara wote in his diaries, "I'll leave you now, with myself, the man I used to be." The real Alberto Granado, now 82 years old, is shown near the end of the film, a living tribute to the young men who used to be.

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