THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES is certainly one of the finest films of the year - a daring, compassionate re-creation of the journey of two young, well-to-do Argentinean lads who leave their privileged positions of biochemist and fourth year Medical student to follow their idea of traveling by motorcycle from their native Buenos Aires down to Patagonia, up through Chile, Peru, Colombia to Venezuela. Sounds like a light hearted Trip Movie, but instead this journey, factually made by one Ernesto (aka 'Che' and 'Fuser') Guevara de la Serna and his close friend Alberto Granado ('Chubby'), is one of the most touching and sensitive passages into self acceptance and awareness of the world as a place where equality of people is a microscopic speck of illusion that is revealed by a carefully constructed script by Jose Rivera based on the diaries of both of these men made during and after their journey. Walter Salles ("Behind the Sun", "Central Station") once again proves himself a director who can infuse his vision of a story with uncomplicated directness of approach, having the sensitivity to allow his well-chosen actors to create wholly believable, three-dimensional characters, whether the actors are the leads or simply minor roles that hold the camera's eye for seconds.
Taken as simply a movie to enjoy, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES is as beautiful as a National Geographic Magazine feature on the Amazon and the deserted and populated lands of South America. But given his re-creation of Che Guevara's and Alberto Granado's meaningful excursion into manhood this movie goes far beyond entertainment and enters that rarefied arena of psycho biography. Traveling on an old motorcycle, the two lads encounter hunger, accidents, lusting after women at every stop, ingratiating panhandling, and the gradual revelation of the quality of life of the indigenous peoples of South America. They are touched by the plights of the people, the people in turn love the boys, and they eventually spend three weeks living and working in a leprosarium run by the nuns, adding their knowledge of medicine to helping not only the physical needs of the lepers but finding ways to break the psychosocial ostracism that historically curses the 'unclean'. Breaking down these barriers, forming strong relationships with those tending the lepers as well as the lepers themselves, lays the seeds of 'revolution' or Change in the minds of the lads, especially Ernesto or 'Che'. The lepers in this movie, I think are the most emotional and moving characters ever, EVER shown on film. The film does not begin to preach or to make the Che Guevara of Cuban militancy fame a hero: it doesn't have to, as the transformation in the mind of Che is so beautifully subtle. The journey has given him the insight that he must devote himself to changing the inequality and poverty of his America. The events that followed this Motorcycle journey are provided in voice over, black and white footage of people's faces, and a final scene in Havana at the ending of the film. No more need be said. Gael Garcia Bernal gives an incredibly thoughtful, stunning portrayal of Che, saying so much more with his eyes, his body language (especially as he suffers through his own physical demon of asthma attacks), and his perfect embodiment of the spirit of a man who becomes enlightened by the peasants he comes to love. Bernal is already a brilliant actor and a magnetic screen presence, and if he is not nominated for an Oscar for this unique, artful role it will be a major surprise. His is a career to watch! Likewise Rodrigo de la Serna is completely immersed in his role as Alberto and shows the same quality of quiet growth as a character as the movie progresses. ALL of the many extras in this huge cast are memorable: the leper colony abounds with some of the most touching human beings ever captured on film. The camera work, the musical scoring, the obvious commitment on the part of everyone involved in this glorious picture - every aspect of THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES is exactly right. In Spanish with English subtitles