The Motorcycle Diaries (15)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner23/08/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 125 mins

Beautifully photographed, nicely acted film that steers clear of heavy-handed politicizing in favour of lush visuals and an assumption that the audience will fill in the gaps.

Walter Salles’ film of The Motorcycle Diaries arrives on our screens just two weeks after opening the Edinburgh film festival, where it received an enthusiastic response. It’s a beautifully shot, frequently impressive film, although anyone expecting a biopic of Che Guevara is likely to be disappointed, as the film concentrates largely on his political awakening and assumes that the audience will fill in the gaps from there.

Che Begins His Journey To Immortality

Set in 1952, the film stars Gael Garcia Bernal (Amores Perros, Y Tu Mama Tambien) as the young Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a 22 year old medical student who embarks on an eight month motorcycle trip across South America with his best friend, 29 year-old biochemist Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna).

Their ultimate destination is a leper colony where they plan to intern before taking up medical careers, but along the way they pursue the usual adventures: girls, booze, a bit of fun. However, as the trip progresses, the more serious Ernesto gradually has his eyes opened to the plight of the impoverished in South America and what he sees will change the course of his life.

The script, by Jose Rivera, from books by both Guevara and Granado, is amusing, intelligent and rich with detail, particularly in the way that it makes their motorcycle –a beaten-up 1939 Norton 500 motorbike nicknamed “The Mighty One” – a character in itself. The script is aided in turn by authentic casting of the various people that the young men encounter, so that it feels as if Salles is actually shooting in documentary fashion.

Excellent Performances All Round

The performances are excellent – Bernal is perfectly cast as the introspective Che and he further cements his growing reputation as one of the most interesting actors in cinema today. Rodrigo de la Serna is equally good, however, in the flashier role. More importantly, the two men have genuine chemistry together – you believe in their friendship and the several of their scenes together are delightful.

The photography, by Eric Gautier, is breathtakingly beautiful throughout, although the film does veer heavily towards ‘Travelogue Cinema’ in places. That said, it’s amazing to see places like mountain city Machu Picchu on the big screen and it’s a sure bet that there will be a rise in the booking of trips to South America after this (leper colony aside, obviously). In addition, the film has a great soundtrack, by Gustavo Santaolalla.

In short, The Motorcycle Diaries is definitely worth seeing, for the script, performances and photography. It’s unusual to see a film that doesn’t hammer home its emotional moments and this deserves praise for crediting its audience with some intelligence. Recommended.

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Content updated: 23/03/2019 21:30

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