Motorcycle Diaries
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Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

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One type of film embraced by the American public has always been the road trip. While many think of this as a truly American genre the truth is people all over the world can identify with the need to travel to explore, expand and discover. The Motorcycle Diaries is an adaptation of Ernesto "Che" Guevara memoirs, Motorcycle Dairies and "With Che Through Latin America" by Alberto Granado of their eight month long South American road trip of introspection and personal discovery. Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal), 23 and his cousin and best friend Alberto (Rodrigo De La Serna), embark in 1939 on an 8,000 mile tour South America on their beat up 1939 Norton 500 motorbike, ironically named ‘The Mighty One’. Ernesto is a medical student, determined to help the aliments of the many sick and dying in his country, Alberto is a student of biochemistry. While most such buddy flicks take the comical approach this one is a touching drama concerning two the friendship of two young men growing up in a turbulent time. Each man has his won personal reasons for this journey. Ernesto is about to finish his medical degree, ready to ascend to the start of his professional life. Alberto is facing his thirtieth birthday, a number that looms before him, leaving his youth behind. They life long friends have been planning such a trip all their lives and now the last chance to make it a reality has come. More important than the changes in scenery here are the profound alternations in the life views of the two men. Ernesto has always learned about illness from the detached perspective of a physician in training. The text books and controlled clinical experience did little to preparing him for an encounter with a group of leapers.

There is also an excellent contrast between the two friends. Ernesto is asthmatic, a book worm while Alberto is the carouser, a womanizer looking for the next good time. Ernesto is honest almost to a fault while Alberto is not above a well placed lie to obtain food, shelter or a woman. The men are ever different in their physical presentation. Ernesto is lean where as Alberto is stockier, more robust in every manner. It is easy to see that the differences is what bound them together, they where opposites that complimented each other extremely well.

Adding to this film is the knowledge that Ernesto would soon become ‘Che’ Guevara, the right hand man for Fidel Castro during the bloody communist revolution in Cuba. By just reading the biography of Che one might wonder what would turn a nice middle class medical student into one of the most famous revolutionaries the world has ever known. Here we are provided with a glimpse of the most transitional part of his life. As the plight of the lower class is driven home in such a visceral manner Ernesto identifies ever more closely with the dire plight of these people. As the embryonic leader contemplates the extreme disparity between the lavish country club life of his girlfriend Chichina (Mía Maestro), back home and the squalor most of these people exist in we can almost witness the political transformation being made. As it often happens in life two best friends on such a trip soon find that their goals are starting to diverge. The easier going Alberto wants to enjoy life while Ernesto is moving closer to a driving need to help the poor and oppressed.

This is the second time at bat for Gael Garcia Bernal playing Che Guevara. His first experience with this character was in the 2002 television mini series ‘Fidel’. This time out Bernal is afforded the opportunity to really explore the emotional evolution of the man. Bernal is excellent in the role. The audience can forget the political affiliations of the older Che and become completely engrossed in the changes going on within the young man. Bernal has the acting ability that even if you disagree with the revolutionary leader you can emphasize with what eventually brought him to that role in history. Just as Alberto complimented Ernesto, Rodrigo De La Serna is the perfect count point to Bernal. De La Serna is gregarious in his portrayal of this extremely outgoing young man. He gives us an Alberto that is determined to squeeze the last ounces of living out of the waning days of his twenties.

Walter Salles may not be a name familiar to most Americans but it is one that will without a doubt grow in recognition. Salles has an innate sense of the true old fashion story teller, a man whose primary talent is making even the most mundane aspects of this road trip engrossing. The use of scenery is incredible. The vastness of the mountains, the sheer beauty of this country is a character onto it self. It also provides yet another contrast, the beauty of nature against the dank conditions so many must endure. Salles seems to have been heavily influenced by the classic Easy Rider but this by no means an imitation. Like Rider it is filmed in an episodic fashion as the two men go from one location to another. Here though the ancient motorcycle is on its last legs leaving the men afoot in their quest of discovery. There was a bit of a problem with the pacing. There are moments that just went on too long, particularly the scenes involving the leapers. While this may have been a device to help the audiences appreciate the tempo of the trip it translated to the screen as somewhat inconsistent. That not withstanding, this is a film that even those that are not accustomed to non-English language films can fully appreciate, one note here, the scenery does make reading some of the subtitles very difficult.

Universal demonstrates a commitment to bring the American audiences the best in entertainment no matter where the country of origin happens to be. The anamorphic 1:85 is nothing less than beautiful. The rich earth tones and stunning blues of the sky bring this region of the earth right into your home. The color palette is one of the best I have seen in a long while. The audio is provided in both Spanish and French Dolby 5.1. The sound field is full, using the rear speakers for realistic ambience. Thankfully, Universal did not destroy the overall feeling of this film with bad dubbing; instead they provide English and French subtitles. Added to the release are some interesting deleted scenes, a making of featurette and an interview with the lead actor, Gael Garcia Bernal. One very nice piece was the interview with composer of the score, Gustavo Santaolalla, detailing the effort he took on to integrate his astonishing music with the scenery. For many out there this may not have been on your must have list but take a chance on something a real quality and watch this one.

Posted 2/9/05

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