The Motorcycle Diaries
August 17, 2005
Before Ernesto “Che” Guevara became one of the galvanizing forces behind the Cuban Revolution, he traveled through Latin America with his best friend Alberto Granado on a beat-up old 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle nicknamed “The Mighty One.” He documented these adventures in a diary and this film dramatizes some of his entries, along with Granado’s memoirs, and examines some of the experiences that led to Che’s political awakening.
At the time of their road trip Che (Bernal) was a medical student and Granado (de la Serna) a biochemist (and self-proclaimed ‘wandering scientist”). They shared a love of the open road with no other aspirations other than to see a world they had only read about in books. In a letter to his mother, Che writes, “Gone is ‘this wretched life,’ the uninspiring lectures, the papers and medical exams.” This passage evokes Jack Kerouac’s On the Road as Che seeks to escape the confines of academia for the adventure of the open road and get closer to the land and its people.
Early on, Che and Granado stop off to see the former’s girlfriend, Chichina (Maestro) and this delays their journey as she wants him to stay but the lure of the road is stronger. The two men have their petty arguments and bicker about trivial things but they’re a team: Granado is able to sweet-talk people for food and shelter while Che brings sincerity and good looks that wins people over. However, Granado’s charm backfires when Che hits on the wife of a mechanic fixing their bike and the two men are literally run out of town.
They witness the rampant homelessness in Chile. People work in mines for little money and in poor conditions. They also see the unemployment in Peru and talk to one man who was thrown off the land he worked on by his landlord and the police. He now looks for work to support his five children. Che and Granado’s privileged existence has removed them from the problems of the common man and this journey opens their eyes to a lot of harsh realities.
Gael Garcia Bernal ads another solid performance to an already impressive career (that also includes Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien). He brings a real sincerity to his role, infusing his take on Che with empathy for those around him. He takes his medical training seriously and uses his expertise to help an ailing old woman ease her pain. Bernal also brings intensity to the role and shows Che’s transformation from a young man looking for answers to a man who begins to realize his purpose in life.
Rodrigo de la Serna is also excellent as Che’s best friend, Alberto Granado. He is a gregarious person full of life. Granado is good at talking to people and gaining their confidence, telling them what they want to hear. De la Serna brings a playful attitude to his character which acts as a nice contrast to Bernal’s more serious Che.
Walter Salles fills his movie with beautiful scenery: the green, rolling hills of Argentina and the snowy roads and fog-enshrouded mountains of Chile. At times his movie is a romanticized view of Che’s early life but it also resists the urge to put him on a pedestal in favour of showing him as a young man with faults and desires just like anyone else. It does show, however, the seeds of what would result in the legendary figure he became. The Motorcycle Diaries is about two men becoming aware of the world around them and learning what it means to truly help and serve your fellow man.
There are four deleted scenes totaling eight and half minutes. Included is a good bit where Che and Alberto try to steal wine from a dinner that they are working at only to have their stash stolen by other workers helping out.
“A Moment with Alberto Granado” is a brief interview with the man who claims that during the course of their trip he and Che must’ve fallen off their motorcycle 50 times. He may be an old man now but his mind is as active as ever.
“Making of The Motorcycle Diaries” is a 22-minute featurette that is pretty standard press kit material and relies heavily on clips from the movie. Che’s daughter talks about how the structure of her father’s diary—crazy and funny escapades in the first half and more serious encounters in the second—is preserved in Salles’ film.
“A Moment with Gael Garcia Bernal” is a Telemundo interview with the young actor. He talks about how he started acting as a small child as both his parents were in show business. He also gave up a lucrative career as a Mexican soap star to pursue acting seriously.
“’Toma Uno’ with Gael Garcia Bernal” is a Mun2 TV interview with Bernal where he talks briefly about his philosophy on life and acting.
In “Music of the Road: An Interview with Composer Gustavo Santaolalla,” he explains that he wrote a lot of the music before he saw any footage, relying on his reading of the script for inspiration.
Finally, there are cast and filmmaker biographies and filmographies.