Monday, August 17, 2009

A Frank Review of "The Motorcycle Diaries" (2004)

The Short Version? Pre-revolutionary Che on holiday.
What Is It? Bio-pic.
Who Is In It? Gael García Bernal
Should I See It? Yes.

My girlfriend, in her Prada glasses and scented with Dolce & Gabbana, fancies herself a Latin-style communist. These means I've been subjected to hours of torture in forms such as Che and Fidel, the latter a mini-series featuring Gael García Bernal as Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Both of those films had their charms and drawbacks, and each was the product of undeniable bias on their producers' parts. Political histrionics can be ever so tiresome, but at least some joy could be found in Bernal's twitchy, agitated take on the famed Argentine revolutionary. Four years later, Bernal played the same character several years younger and far more subtly to sound effect. In fact, in his native land Che was nicknamed "Fuser," and is divorced enough from his popular Marxist identity that The Motorcycle Diaries can be enjoyed on its own merits, without any baggage.

Fuser and Alberto take a break from their medical careers to attempt a motorcycle trip through South America. Their misadventures along the way are at turns amusing and affecting, with consistently beautiful cinematography and scoring. You do see glimpses of the Che to come, but setting the knowledge aside, you can view it as the simple story of a young man learning about and being moved to confront the inequities of common people's lives. In that sense, it's almost like a classic western, but without any white hats riding in to save the day. Fuser feels for the disaffected, and helps in his own small ways, but is ultimately just another fish in the stream. Alberto isn't oblivious to this, but as foil and comic relief he's a bit preoccupied chasing every bit of tail he passes along the way. Again, the film works with or without prior history with the subjects, and is a tour worth taking.

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