The Motorcycle Diaries has eluded me for some time. Each time it would reach the top of my Netflix queue, I’d bump it down a few places. I certainly didn’t expect to be entertained. But considering the fact that everyone knows about Che Guevara, ‘cept me — I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn a little bit about the guy that all the cool people want to wear on their chest. (And if the truth be told, 96% of those “cool folks” know even less about him than I do.)
Unfortunately, The Motorcycle Diaries is not a history lesson as much as it is a lesson in compassion. It’s a bit heavy on the Liberal side I’m sure for some, but I think we can learn a lot about how much we have to be thankful for by watching this film. Diaries stars exceptional rising actor Gael Garcia Bernal as a young Ernesto Guevara, who decides to embark upon a motorcycle ride across the western coast of South America in what appears to be a last attempt to “see the world” before they grow-up and have the burden of jobs and families to worry about. The film is based upon the real life diaries of Che Guevara.
The journey is more entertaining than I would have imagined. They get into a bit of trouble — often connected to their attempts to woo the attention of a young woman. Rodrigo de la Serna plays Alberto Granado — Guevara’s traveling companion and partner in crime. Their adventures reminded me an awful lot of O Brother Where Art Thou mixed with a bit of Everything is Illuminated. (Two really great films, by the way.) The fact that they don’t ever stay in one place too long kept me engaged. Also, the subtitles, which I would normally be pretty bothered by, didn’t affect me as much. This is largely due to the stellar acting performance turned in by Gael Garcia Bernal. You know an actor is truly great when you can feel the emotion through the screen despite the language barrier. He’s subtle when subtle is required. Many times I felt as if I didn’t even need to read the subtitles. Bernal’s eyes often will tell you all that you need to know. This guy is something special. I can’t wait to check him out in Babel and even more so in other films as his career moves forward.
Overall, Diaries is a film that speaks to the compassion that we often don’t show to the less fortunate. And this film has degrees of less fortunate. Just when you thought you’ve met the people who you pity the most, they’ll run into folks that you’ll feel worse for. But don’t let this stop you. It’s a bit depressing, but you’ll feel better for having seen it.
The quality of the images are a mixed bag. In some places, the print looks breathtaking — such as when they visit the lush mountains of old Incan grounds. But in other places (such as the night shot towards the end of the film) the grain was so much that even I noticed it. Perhaps it was a stylistic choice to add to the grittiness of the trip. Anyhow, watch for some of the really lush scenes. They probably look breathtaking in high def.
Surprisingly, with the exception of a slight blurb at the end of the movie, I don’t know much more about Che Guevara than I did when I popped in the DVD. However, one thing I do know about are the interesting common folks that he met which certainly contributed to his efforts a short time later to champion causes for some of those same folks that touched him. If you’re in the mood for an interesting cross country ride with it’s share of funny moments, compassion-evoking moments and some beautiful shots of South America. Check this one out. Geal Garcia Bernal’s performance is enough to carry you through the almost two-hours that this one runs. Good film.