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    The Motorcycle Diaries

    The importance of being Ernesto

    "The Motorcycle Diaries" revs up the story of Ernesto Guevara's formative travels through Latin America before he became the revolutionary "Ché."


    Advertisements suggest "The Motorcycle Diaries" is a film about Che Guevara. But revered director Walter Salles — whose features and documentaries have won awards at Telluride, Toronto, Sundance and Berlin — rejects biopic trappings. He portrays Guevara, not alone, in his greatest moments of leadership and sacrifice, but in constant company with his best friend, when he was known as Ernesto — not "El Che," the revolutionary icon, Fidel Castro's onetime adviser, strident anti-imperialist and martyr.

    Directed by: Walter Salles.
    Written by: Jose Rivera.
    Adapted from books by: Ché Guevara and Alberto Granado.
    Cast: Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna, Mía Maestro, Mercedes Morán, Jorge Chiarella.
    Cinematography: Eric Gautier.
    Edited by: Daniel Rezende.
    In Spanish with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    The movie begins as Ernesto Guevara (Gael García Bernal) a medical student, and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna), a young biochemist, set out on a rickety Norton 500 motorcycle to see their continent beyond Buenos Aires. Intending to live lean and party hard before taking up serious careers in their respective fields, they anticipate road-trip challenges. Of course, they end up hunting for their supper in somebody's back yard, and pushing their mechanically wasted motorcycle (nicknamed "la poderosa," trans: the mighty one) through snow, sand and more. But they are also surprised by encounters with homeless miners, farmers forced into migration, riverboat prostitutes, and lepers isolated from normal society and hospitals in remote Peru.

    The Motorcycle Diaries  
    Salles and screenwriter José Rivera adapted the story from the memoirs and journals of Guevara and Granado, and spent more than two years conducting their research. Shot in over 30 locations, spanning Argentina, Chile, Peru and Cuba, The Motorcycle Diaries follow Guevara's real trail as closely as possible. (Some areas have become so industrialized or developed that they would not fit a story set in the 1950s.) Cast and crew endured temperatures from subzero to 113 degrees Fahrenheit working in the Amazon, the Andes, Patagonia, the Atacama dessert, and the Peruvian San Pablo leper colony. As with Salles' 2002 dramatic work "Behind the Sun" (or executive producer Robert Redford's "A River Runs Through It"), majestic natural landscapes and timeless architecture threaten to steal nearly every scene. But they couldn't possibly — not from Bernal and De la Serna.

      The Motorcycle Diaries
    The physically cerebral Bernal is hotter and younger than Brad Pitt, and as commanding as repeat-biopic leading man Denzel Washington ("X," "The Hurricane"). His Guevara is a sympathetic, not militant, fellow — one who chokes to read that his passionate, impatient girlfriend Chichina Ferreyra (Mía Maestro) is with another man; whose entire body succumbs to asthma fits; who tangos with two left feet (Guevara couldn't dance). Meanwhile, supporting actor De la Serna as Granado sheds a convincing tear for "la poderosa" (the Norton 500), knows his mambo from his tango, and carries off the smiling, fibbing and flirting of Guevara's counterpart with sparkle and grace.

    Salles, Bernal and De la Serna have managed to inject comic timing and buddy-movie chemistry into an obviously poetic, achingly nostalgic drama, making "The Motorcycle Diaries" every bit as engaging as "Midnight Run," or provocative as "Easy Rider," without detracting from a dignified and carefully studied subject.

    SEPTEMBER 29, 2004

    Reader comments on The Motorcycle Diaries:

  • A person with ideals, a trip tests believes   from Charlie, Oct 4, 2004
  • Motorcycle Diaries   from A Cuban, Nov 24, 2004
  • I LOVE HIM   from Hortensia, May 25, 2005
  • Re: I LOVE HIM   from Lindsay, Dec 14, 2005
  • okay   from kelly, Apr 18, 2006

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