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The Motorcycle Diaries

September 11, 2011

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Director: Walter Salles
Actors: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mia Maestro

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Synopsis: Two Argentinian Medical students – Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) – embark on a motorcycle trip up the South American continent. On the way, their social consciences grow.

Review: Having recently read the book on which this film was based, I was curious to see how director Walter Salles and his team adapted it for the big screen, and on the whole I think he does a fairly competent, if predictable, job. The film is pretty faithful to the text, although that’s not exactly a surprising thing as Che Guevara’s diaries always had something inherently cinematic in them – from the notion of it depicting a road movie with a classical three-act structure, to the pictureseque potential of a journey around the South American continent, to the intermingling genres of comedy, romance and socio-political drama giving the film a wide-ranging, episodic feel. Of course, the great ‘elephant in the room’ of the story is Guevara’s growing social conscience and the iconic revolutionary he was to become, and Salles hammers home this subtext a little too readily at times. If anything, the film’s greatest weakness is that it feels a little too safe and tasteful – ironically, in direct contradiction to the growing class rage and politicisation of its two protagonists. The destitution and degree of physical suffering that Guevara encountered en route is glossed over in the film, and the use of ‘artistic’ black and white photography to highlight the social injustices of the indigenous peoples of South America risks ‘aestheticising’ their suffering for a middle-class audience, which again would seem antithetical to the spirit of Guevara’s politics. (September 2011)

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