271 of 295 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "On the Road" with Che Guevara
As most potential viewers know, this film is based on diaries and letters to home written by Ernesto "Che" Guevara during a motorcycle and foot tour of a significant portion of South America during the early 1950s, years before Guevara achieved international renown as a Communist and Latino revolutionary. Thus, the film functions as an attempt to get at the heart of the...
Published on October 3, 2004 by Robert Moore
55 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Myopic Look at an Iconic Figure
This is a tough review to write because of the subject matter we're dealing with: a militant revolutionary who became Castro's right-hand man during the 1959 Cuban revolt. But here in THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES film, we don't see this man; we see instead the formation of the person whom this man (Ernesto "Che" Guevara played by the talented Gael García Bernal)would...
Published on November 27, 2005 by B. Merritt
Most Helpful First | Newest First
271 of 295 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "On the Road" with Che Guevara,
As most potential viewers know, this film is based on diaries and letters to home written by Ernesto "Che" Guevara during a motorcycle and foot tour of a significant portion of South America during the early 1950s, years before Guevara achieved international renown as a Communist and Latino revolutionary. Thus, the film functions as an attempt to get at the heart of the person who preceded the myth. The film is therefore difficult to judge as pure cinema. Is this, on its own merits, a great film? Or is it a great film about Che Guevara? Interestingly, the person I saw this film with knew absolutely nothing about the subject of the film before it started, and did not connect Ernesto Guevara with Che Guevara until very late in the film. Her reaction was interesting. Until she realized that it was about Che, she says that she considered it a decent but only slightly above average "road" picture, but it gained considerably in her estimation once she realized who the film was about. I think she was correct, and I would agree with those who feel that what merits the film has depends to some degree on who the film is about. If Ernesto hadn't become Che, it would be a good film but of considerably less interest than it is.
The film does a good job of rooting Che's eventual concern with the liberation of the oppressed by depicting his broad and constant encounters with everyday people throughout the continent. Camus wrote that it was important to side with the victims and not the executioners, and in his travels Ernesto spends most of his time with the victims. His near-epic exposure to the continent clearly condition his sympathies and inform his vision. At the end of the film it is easy to understand why Che chose a life dedicated to aiding the oppressed in Cuba and elsewhere. The great question left unanswered, and the one reason one can find Che's life morally troubling, is why he felt that the causes he espoused demanded a violent, military response. Why follow in the steps of Trotsky and Lenin rather than Gandhi? Apart from a single line which merely hints that Che felt violence might be necessary, the film doesn't come anywhere close to answering this question.
In many ways, the star of the film is the South American continent. I have seen many films over the years set in one corner of the continent or another, but none provided a panoramic view. This film, however, by swinging through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia, and Venezuela provides a graphic impression of the continent's immense geographical diversity, expanse, and enormous beautiful. I don't think it would be possible to see this film without a deep urge to visit the land. The scene shot in Machu Picchu reveals the incredible beauty of the site better than anything else I have ever seen.
Gael Garcia Bernal is a remarkably handsome, talented young actor, formerly best known for one of the two young men in Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, and is outstanding in portraying the young Che Guevara. One suspects that his days as an actor in primarily Latin productions is close to an end, his next several projects originating in Hollywood. Rodrigo De la Serna does not have the enormous charisma of Bernal, but he more than holds his own in the film. The cast is rounded out by a large roster of professional and amateur performers.
Che Guevara is such a controversial figure that this film could elicit a host of differing responses. How one will respond to this film will be deeply conditioned by how one views him. But I do think that it is a film that virtually every viewer will respond to with great interest, and I defy anyone not to find the remarkable landscapes anything short of stunning.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contrary to the review below...,
...I want to offer an almost-opposite reaction. Yes, I admit I went into the theater not knowing a) much at all about Che Guevara, or b) that the film was even about Che. I was mesmerized all the way through, by the subtle messages about the plight of working-class Latin Americans, by the sweeping landscapes and by the fantastic performances. Once I (finally) figured out that the Ernesto Guevara in this film was indeed *the* Ernesto Guevara, I thought, "How brilliant." It doesn't set out to portray him as a saint (as a previous reviewer said), or as a villain-in-the-making. It's a very rare thing in cinema, or history studies in general: a portrait of a man as a man. What you make of the path Che later chose as a result of these experiences is a different matter entirely, and one frankly not related to this film at all.
Some have cried, "Would you enjoy a movie that portrayed a young Hitler sympathetically?" My answer: a) that's really not an accurate comparison, and b) maybe, if it were this well written and acted and filmed. Imagine the story of the Beer Hall Putsch told in such a way that we really got into the youthful main character's mind to discover its workings and motivations. It wouldn't excuse what he did, but explain it in a more insightful way than the boiled-down mush we are served in our history books. This is what cinema should be used for more often.
55 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Myopic Look at an Iconic Figure,
This is a tough review to write because of the subject matter we're dealing with: a militant revolutionary who became Castro's right-hand man during the 1959 Cuban revolt. But here in THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES film, we don't see this man; we see instead the formation of the person whom this man (Ernesto "Che" Guevara played by the talented Gael García Bernal)would become. He's a young idealist living in South America when he and a friend (Alberto Granado played by up-and-coming actor Rodrigo de la Serna) decide to take a road trip across the continent before bellying down into their chosen carriers in medicine.
The film succeeds in giving us a very myopic view of these two men: Guevara for the initial changes he begins to go through as he witnesses injustices to the low and poor; Granado for his love of women and grudging dedication to Guevara. We travel with them on a 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle (my hat's off to the two actors who had to ACTUALLY learn to ride one of these behemoths!) as they argue with each other over money, their deficient form of transportation, and Guevara's unflinching honesty when asked delicate questions (this is brought into focus when they first meet a man - who looks very German - in a small village and asks Che and Granado to look at a lump on his neck, which Granado diagnoses as a cyst but Che calls a tumor).
The cinematography was done exceptionally well on a small budget. The beauty of Machu Picchu, the green forests of Peru, the nothingness of various deserts, all added great visuals for the viewer.
The film's faults lay with its omissions. Yes, Che was a thinking man. Yes, Che was concerned with humanity as a whole. But Che was also somewhat of a bigot. He didn't like blacks, jews, and homosexuals (read the book THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES). So when he shows his concern for lepers in a colony along the Amazon River, we're only see a part of this complex man. Granted, for a film you need to have your audience empathize with the main character, but this also pulls us into the shallow end of the depths that this man was. The convoluted sections of Che's life might have added an extra level of understanding for film viewers, especially those who have knowledge of his later life when he becomes an executioner of spies and deserters, quite a dichotomy compared to the hippocratic oath he took when becoming a doctor - the oath basically promising to "do no harm."
But, again, I can understand why the film makers decided to omit these sections. We are, after all, seeing only the early life of Che, a fomenting of ideas that would change his life forever. But I think we have to be careful when looking at such a potentially volatile subject and controversial man, and only showing the "sunnier" side of Che to a new generation of movie-goers. More research is needed if one really wishes to understand the levels of Che.
39 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A YOUTHFUL, ROMANTIC VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY. TAKE IT AS SUCH,
I don't get some of the ranting reviews here that claim this movie has communist contours; there's as much radicalism in this film as there is Oriental Buddhism in Jackie Chan kungfu capers.
I never felt that the movie couches any fiery or didactic political message, or that it even ought to.
It's a romantic ode to the youthful Guevara, and truly captures the adventurism and empathy of his formative years that may have affected him in later life. The director is wise not to weigh his narrative down with too many explicit allusions to his eventual activist zeal.
Whatever it's political underpinnings, at least it's a gorgeous looking picture, a trekker's fantasy that catalogs the ramshackle journey of a couple of young men who hailed from good stock, but gave all that up to set off on a rinkydink motorcycle to see places they'd only read about and meet people they'd never imagined.
It is difficult not to fall in love with the stunning imagery that pervades the film, as we watch a neorealistic camera cut a vast Latin American skein from the snow-covered Andes, to the mysterious ruins of Machu Picchu, to a sprawling Chilean desert and a Peruvian river that the young Guevara swims across in the film's climax -- all physical destinations to be reached and crossed as well as stages in our protagonist's spiritual and psychological growth.
Some traces of ham-handedness may be evident in the latter half, when Guevara speaks with a homeless person or a coarse day labor manager or an ostracized leper. But Bernal does a fabulous job of maintaining a perfect dose of traveler's passivity coupled with boyish inquisitiveness.
Thinking back, the movie could also have thrown in some measure of a conclusive message into the fray, but the guitar strumming that serves as a backdrop to the closing credits simply overtakes that thought in my mind. I'm off to buy the soundtrack as soon as I am done with this review.
I highly recommend it for the discerning viewer. Won't be surprised if this gets in line for those nude male statuettes.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buddy Picture Reaches Far Deeper Into the Heart,
When I visited South America on my own extended trip a couple of years ago, I was amazed how many times I saw pictures of Che Guevara everywhere I went....cafes, outdoor bulletin boards, art galleries, even department stores. Now I understand why. Having just read his diary, I was greatly anticipating this film, and my interest only heightened when I started seeing the travelogue shots in the previews. I am happy to report the film surpasses my expectations on almost every level. It is exquisite - perceptively directed, beautifully photographed and wondrously acted by a cast headed by two charismatic actors who tap deep into the hearts and souls of their characters. Whereas the book is more observational, the movie provides a more involving feeling in its portrait of a young man on the brink of his political awakening. It starts out somewhat deceptively as a comic buddy picture with the young Ernesto Guevara (pre-Che), a medical student, leaving his family and accompanying his seemingly more worldly pal Alberto Granado, a biochemist, on a dilapidated 1939 Norton motorbike traversing South America from their native Buenos Aires to Caracas. It is obvious what Alberto's hormonally charged intentions are on this months-long journey, but at 23, Ernesto is at a more sensitive juncture in his life where his encounters and observations have a deeper impact on his ideology.
What I really like about the film is how it changes in tone and texture as the boys' hunt for adventure evolves into life-changing experiences for both of them. The motorbike acts as a metaphor for this change, as it unsurprisingly breaks down forcing them to open their eyes to the poverty and quiet struggle of the local people in each of the countries they visit. The story winds through wintry Patagonia, the blistering Atacama Desert, the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu and several towns in between. But the most touching passage takes place at the San Pablo leper colony in the Peruvian Amazon basin, where Ernesto bonds deeply with the lepers to the chagrin of the local nuns. His night swim across the Amazon, struggling for air through his asthma, is a powerful scene among many in this subtly potent film.
As he proved with his wonderful "Central Station", director Walter Salles has an acute ability to connect his characters to their settings in deeply emotional ways. He is the ideal choice to guide this road movie. As Guevara, Gael Garcia Bernal transcends his Tiger Beat, teen heartthrob looks and delivers a deeply touching performance, as he grows from a big city innocent to a haunted young man ready to take on a greater cause than his medical career. He does an especially strong job in conveying his character's unblinking honesty and displaying unexpected acts of rage and compassion. Just as good is Rodrigo de la Serna in his feature film debut as Granado, effortlessly showing his character's bravado and humor while finding his own bumpy way in the world. His reactions to his buddy's political declaration at the birthday party, and to his own feelings during their goodbye at the end, are among the most poignant moments in the movie. In fact, much of the film's power comes from their palpable chemistry and unforced rapport. They are instantly and completely believable as best friends. And much more than the book, the film builds a solid emotional bridge between the young innocent and the Communist revolutionary Guevara was to become. If you are not aware of his fate, it is briefly summarized in subtitles at the end, and the coda with the real Granado is moving. While this may be the most glowing portrayal of a Communist-in-the-making since Warren Beatty's film about John Reed, "Reds", don't let that stop you from seeing this mesmerizing work. This is a wonderfully heartfelt film.
**ADDENDUM ABOUT THE DVD RELEASE POSTED ON FEBRUARY 18, 2005**
There are three extended deleted scenes included in the DVD package, none indispensable but still valuable for the additional context they provide to an essentially episodic movie. I particularly liked the sequence with the blind truck driver risking the lives of the two vagabonds as he swerves perilously on a treacherous mountain road. The obligatory making-of documentary is helpful, and includes comments from Salles, screenwriter Jose Rivera and executive producer Robert Redford. There are also a couple of brief Spanish-language TV interviews with Bernal and a quick interview with the film's composer, Gustavo Santaolalla.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simplified, but touching and entertaining nonetheless,
Lately, it seems that Gael Garcia Bernal has become the Mexican Gerard Depardieu...all the movies from his country seem to have him in it. Of course, when a movie like Y Tu Mama Tambien or the deeply moving Motorcycle Diaries comes along, you realize he's a star even in the U.S. for good reason. In Diaries, Bernal portrays a young pre-revolutionary Che Guevara on a life-changing roadtrip around South America with the restrained ease of a pro. Accompanied by his med school buddy, Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna, charming in his first big role), they experience the poverty and injustice in their continent that later sows the seeds for the actions that made Che famous. Yeah, all the 'road-trip-movie' ingredients are here, but director Walter Salles manages to layer the story with a deeper theme that makes it all cohesive: a road trip of grandiose notions and goals is reduced to the need to help humanity in its most direct form. Yes, both main characters (Che, especially) suffer from a biopic-typical tidying up of personality (i.e. - these guys are about as flawed as Mother Teresa), but with Gustava Santaolalla's atmospheric guitar music and Eric Gautier's warm cinematography, Diaries and all its flaws become a satisfying cinematic experience that swells to a rewarding, if somewhat trite, finale. The message of Diaries is powerful, though, no matter how schmaltzy it may be. As the tagline goes, "Let the world change you...and you can change the world." Sounds good to me. B+
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Making of a Revolutionary,
Traveling is one of my favorite activities. Whether I'm taking a long vacation trip of one week or more or just a weekend getaway to a nearby resort, I'm always ready for some travel excitement. In this movie, the two lead characters are also very fond of travel. They hop aboard a motorcycle and proceed to traverse throughout South America, making for an entertaining film that combines travel adventure and politics to create a mesmerizing film with a strong message.
This movie is based on a real- life event that occurred in the 1950's when Ernesto Guevara set off across the South American continent with his friend on the back of a motorcycle. Some might recognize the Guevara name from history- he was one of the people responsible for leading the Cuban revolution that brought Castro to power. He was on his way to perform medical work as part of his college internship and decided to make a long adventure out of it rather than flying directly to his destination.
Among this film's strong points, which include the directing, the acting, and the hot Latin babes, the quality that stands out more than anything is the cinematography. The two young men depart form their native Argentina, head west to Chile, then north to Peru and ultimately to Venezuela. Along the way, the viewer is treated to great natural scenery like the Andes Mountains, the Atacama Desert, and the Amazon River. There is also some great man- made scenery as well, like that of an ancient Inca ruin in Peru. And there are some politically tragic scenes, like those that depict the unethical treatment received by peasants and others during this time in history.
The direction of this movie is superb, and it is intended to get the viewer to think about social and economic justice. Supposedly, Guevara's traveling experience and the acts of injustice he encountered formed the basis for his decision to help lead the Cuban revolution. It's a little strange that he would forge a relationship with Castro's Cuba, since little or nothing in that island nation bears any resemblance to justice. But this is what happened, and this movie is based loosely on Guevara's eye- opening travel adventure.
Some people will be turned off by a movie like this because of its obvious political leanings and its subtle endorsement of socialism as a political ideal. I certainly don't agree with any type of government philosophy based on authoritarianism. But I urge viewers not to let this dissuade them from watching this film. It offers great scenery, flawless direction, and great performances by the large cast of characters. Toss your political beliefs aside and give this film a chance. You will be happy you did.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The dream is over?,
This beautiful movie deserves a wider audience than it's likely to get. The casting is top-drawer, the scenery breath-taking, and the story inspirational. What more can you ask of a movie? Apparently, a good number of reviewers would ask a lot more. They would ask that Che had never been Che, the Communist, and that millions of human beings in the 20th century had never flirted with alternative forms of government; otherwise, they won't have anything to do with this movie. How sad. They are guilty of the ad hominem fallacy, the one that, as they should have learned in logic class, plays to prejudices, emotions, and special interests, rather than to reason. So Che had a dream of a United Latin America-what of that? You can see how little came of it. Che himself was killed in Bolivia in a Quixotic attempt to stir up the same kind of rebellion he had sired, with Castro, in Cuba. But I'm not going to hold any of that against the young Ernesto who is depicted in Walter Salles' film, nor against his companion Alberto. For one thing, they remind me too much of myself. I once had ideals, many wrong-headed. I sometimes wonder what might have come of me had I acted upon them. As for the film, it is an experience that is a must for anyone with any curiosity about the world, although I understand that curiosity is discouraged in schoolrooms today, where the point of an education seems to be to establish our superiority over our neighbors. Here is a travelogue that should amaze those among us who have never peeked below the 30th parallel and asked what the other half of "America" looks like. The prospect of Machu Picchu alone is enough to evoke the wanderlust. And what subversive message does Ernesto, the young medical student, learn on the way to maturity? It's summarized in Ernesto's speech in the dance scene at the leprosarium: "We [Latins] constitute a single Mestizo race, which from Mexico to the Magellen Straits bears notable ethnographical similarities," and so he proposes a toast "to Peru and to a United Latin America." It never happened. It was a dream. Che's critics got the last laugh. But the film captures the dream beautifully, and for a moment we may even believe it's possible. We still go to the movies to dream, don't we?
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, but please do also read the original diaries,
This film is fantastic with its scenery, the beautiful story of two young unselfish heroes, realizing unknown social contrasts during their adventurous never boring motorcycle trip. It is quite moving how they visit a leprosy camp and give a lecture to the people treating the lepers rather badly, isolating them on the other side of a big river and never touching them without gloves. Well, a bit disappointing to read about the real stay of the long praised leprosy experts: they stayed just for two days. No nuns there at all. Our heroes staying more comfortable out of camp at a police station. I have seen sisters working at a leper camp in Africa, or with Aids patients, they do not wear gloves, believe me (or only on orders of doctors at the bigger hospitals), all they do is offering their whole life to the service of others. So I think it is a pity, that the humanity shown in this movie has to ground on wrong accusations and creating prejudices against those who in real life really stay and help - for a lifetime.
But please, have your own check.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Take This Journey!!!!!,
When I walked into the movie theatre (I got the chance of seeing it here in Brazil, where the movie has already opened), I didn't had much expectations about this movie. When I walked out, it was a whole other story....
Mind-Blowing locations, with a spectacular soundtrack, and explendid acting, director Walter Salles takes us, deep into South America, to an unforgettable journey, where two best friends will find more than just adventures, but get in touch with their true self, and will change their lives forever. For Real!
Well, even if the movie only opens in October, or if you are in another country, mark this movie "THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES", and for pete's sake, do not miss this!!!!
And for those, that believes movies aren't all about, know that this is a true story, based on the diary of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and his trip with his best Friend Alberto Granado.
A must-see picture and a must-have DVD!!!
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Motorcycle Diaries [Blu-ray] by Walter Sellers Jr. (Blu-ray - 2009)