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The Motorcycle Diaries /

Rated: R

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mia Maestro, Mercedes Moran, Susana Lanteri

Directed by: Walter Salles

Produced by: Karen Tenkoff, Michael Nozik, Edgard Tenenbaum
Written by:
Sam Schreiber
New Line Cinema


Gael Garcia Bernal in Focus Features' The Motorcycle Diaries
Gael Garcia Bernal in Focus Features' The Motorcycle Diaries
Rodrigo de la Serna and Gael Garcia Bernal in Focus Features' The Motorcycle Diaries

     Everyone knows Ché Guevara the radical, Ché Guevara the leader of the Cuban revolution, Ché Guevara the political activist. Frankly, I don’t think we need to hear anymore about his communist likes; I, personally, cannot stand them. However, The Motorcycle Diaries is a movie about Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, the same man, before he changed his name and became the figure that he is thought of as, in today’s society. It tells the tale of a more illusive and interesting Ché Guevara, and works, for the most part.

     The film is based on Guevara’s memoirs and takes place when he was in his early twenties. Then, he and his friend, Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), set out on an 8,000 kilometer journey, up the South American continent. They began on motorcycle, but later had to adapt the methods of boat, foot, and truck, after their bike broke down. At the time, Guevara had one more semester of medical school to complete and Granado was a working biochemist. They postponed their travels a number of times when visiting Ché’s girlfriend, meeting with a scientist/writer, and working at a village for those suffering from leprosy. Much of this generates quite a bit of interest, but The Motorcycle Diaries suffers from being far too long, in the end.

     In fact, by the third act, The Motorcycle Diaries becomes incredibly boring. Each event seems strung out, as if director Walter Salles is trying to savor certain moments when there is nothing savory about them. There are many long strands of meaningless dialogue, which hold no thematic resonance, in the least. They do contribute to the rather illusive mood of the picture, but Gustavo Santaolalla hypnotic score and Eric Gautier’s beautiful camerawork usually suffice in that area.

     When The Motorcycle Diaries succeeds, it is when it is most heavily reliant upon its leading actors. De la Serna is terrific and Bernal, in particular, carries the movie with a fuming and realizing presence that works extremely well, as Guevara. No matter what his politics turned out like and how young he was when his motorcyclist excursion took place, all audience members will look at him as respectable, while watching The Motorcycle Diaries. The view of Guevara in the film is one of independence, even when it shows his communist beliefs developing. Salles has fashioned a spectacle in much of his film; it is a discovery-piece, not a biographical essay.

     The Motorcycle Diaries is abundant in redeeming characteristics, but in the end, it turns out to have too much of a good thing. In the midst of all of the adventure and knowledge being acquired by the characters, the relatively simple concept wears thin on the audience. Even with all of the development taking place in the film, it is only a standard road movie at heart, and lack of interest catches up with the audience, come the final third. Running a long two hours and eight minutes, Salles could’ve cut an entire half-hour and The Motorcycle Diaries would’ve carried the same meaning and been equally (or even more) riveting. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see any foreign movie receive as wide a release as this one is. I surely have no room to complain.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (10.10.2004)

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