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The Motorcycle Diaries (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Featuretter; trailer; B-roll footage; interviews.

THE iconic face of Che Guevara has adorned countless T-shirts and posters down the years, but very little is probably known about the early years of the revolutionary leader.

The Motorcycle Diaries, based on the journals of both himself and friend, Alberto Granado, during a road trip to discover the real Latin America, goes some way to accomplishing that, serving as both an absorbing and frequently funny character study, as well as a valuable historical document.

The film picks up in 1952, as two young Argentines, Ernesto and Alberto, set out on a road trip to unveil the rich and complex human and social topography of the Latin American continent, on a rickety 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle, christened ‘The Mighty One’.

For the 23-year-old Ernesto, a medical student specialising in leprology, the trip represents an opportunity to gain some valuable life experience, as well as furthering his studies (they plan to end up at a leper colony), while for the more flamboyant Alberto, a 29-year-old biochemist, it offers the chance to get laid in each country and have some serious fun.

The road trip that results, as one would expect, is ripe with adventure, from motorcycle crashes, to drunken endeavours, to amorous encounters with beautiful women, right through to the stunning scenery that their journey encompasses.

Yet, along the way, the two men discover a lot about themselves, and for Ernesto, in particular, the seeds of his political motivations are sown in the many injustices and stories of suffering he encounters en route.

Given what Ernesto, or Che, went on to achieve in his political years, viewers may be forgiven for thinking that a film about his early life could be a fairly heavy-going, even ponderous, affair that could make for over-earnest viewing.

Not so, for The Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles, is a life-affirming, enjoyable and hugely engrossing affair that functions on so many different levels, without ever feeling the need to become heavy-handed or preachy.

As a road movie, it provides some breathtaking cinematography; as a character study, it expertly taps into the young ideology of its daring protagonists, and as an affecting exploration of the origins of one of history’s most romanticised revolutionaries, it raises some thought-provoking background material.

It is also extremely well-acted by the rapidly-emerging Gael Garcia Bernal (Bad Education/Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Rodrigo de la Serna, whose friendship is honest, believable and, above all, touchingly portrayed.

Audiences will no doubt laugh at the duo’s misfortune, and gasp at some of the scenery (particularly when they reach the heights of Machu Picchu), while also connecting with the characters on an all-important emotional level.

Bernal, once again, demonstrates what a terrific talent he has become, expertly guiding the viewers’ through his social and political awakening, without ever forgetting to keep his character fun. He captures the romanticism surrounding the Che persona with effortless aplomb, and is ably supported by de la Serna, who provides plenty of comic relief and a credible sounding board for some of Che’s early idea-forming.

It is the chemistry between the two which helps to transform The Motorcycle Diaries into one of the finest and most rewarding movies of the year. Their journey makes for essential viewing.

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