One You Might've Missed #19: The Motorcycle Diaries

By: Rebeca Surber

If you have a love for travel and don’t mind subtitles, or can speak Spanish fluently, this is the movie for you. After watching this film you will want to pack your bags for an adventure of your own where you will “embark on a journey to the farthest reaches of the human spirit where we will encounter new lands, hear new anthems, eat new fruits…” Based on the biographies of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevera and Alberto Granado, this true-life story documents two friends and their incredible motorcycled journey throughout South America in 1952.  This is the story before Guevera became the political activist that most remember.

Gael Garcia Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries

The plan: travel 8000km in four months, traveling on a beat-up 20 year old motorcycle through Argentina, Chile and Peru, ending in Venezuela. From the opening scene to the closing credits (featuring the Oscar winning Best Original Song “Al Otro Lado Del Río”) I’m captivated. The cinematography is beautiful. The way the landscape, motorcycle, city and everything in between are shot creates a longing to revisit these countries, perhaps do the same route of Guevera and Granado.  Hats off to director Walter Salles, this film does a top-notch job capturing the spirit, humor, heartache and love at the pulse of the South American countries the improvising duo visit.

Gael Garcia Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries

As I’m only familiar with only two other works of Gael Garcia Bernal (Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and RUDO Y CURSI) I loved seeing him tackle the role of this famed Argentinean. He gave Guevera a naivety, honesty and heart that I had not seen in Bernal’s previous performances.  Even though I am not an expert, from my untrained ear, Bernal was able to switch from his recognizable Mexican accent to Argentinean with an added a bit of softness.  Generally I find voiceovers in a film annoying, however, hearing Che’s letters to his mother add a depth to the story that doesn’t feel cheesy or unnecessary. Rather, the letters are heart wrenching and poetic all at once.  Watching Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna (Granado) perform you would think they had been friends for years and had truly gone through this rough, wearing and rewarding adventure together.   The most impressive scene to me is the swim across the river, Granado cursing and doubting that his asthmatic friend can make it across, those on the other side of the river cheering Guevera on. When Guevera makes it across and Granado grins and says “I knew he’d make it” I find myself grinning like a fool. De la Serna is the perfect sidekick: chubby with a mischievous grin and heartfelt laugh, simultaneously cheering on and taunting the lead character. He has the right amount of b.s. to his swagger making him all the more loveable.  When De la Serna weeps over his motorcycle “The Mighty One” as they part ways you feel the loss and sadness of saying goodbye to a longtime friend.

Gael Garcia Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries

I completely enjoy the way this story is told, the black and white clips feel like I’m thumbing through an old album or diary, and as seen in the credits, actual photos of the adventures are a great end to a marvelous ride.

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