Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Motorcycle Diaries

Based on the travelogue by Che Guevara and the book Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary by Alberto Granado, The Motorcycle Diaries is the story of Che Guevara’s 1952 expedition all across South America with his friend Alberto Granado as they would encounter many things that would shape Guevara’s outlook into the world. Directed by Walter Salles and screenplay by Jose Rivera, the film is an exploration about the journey of two men from Argentina to Venezuela through the entire South American continent as Gael Garcia Bernal plays Guevara and Rodrigo de la Serna as Alberto Granado. Also starring Mercedes Moran, Mia Maestro, and Jean Pierre Noher. The Motorcycle Diaries is an enriching and mesmerizing film from Walter Salles.

The film explores the trip that Guevara and Granado would take in early 1952 from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Venezuela on a motorcycle called the Mighty One where the two men would endure many things that would plant the seeds for Guevara’s desire to change the world. Yet, the film showcases a sense of innocence that emerges early on when Guevara was known as Ernesto Guevara de la Serna. A man who was just a 23-year old middle-class medical student who goes on a journey with Granado who was a chemist at the time as the two travel all over South America through Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and the Amazon where they would encounter a world that is filled with inequality and turmoil. Especially as Guevara would question everything that he had encounter as well as the need to make a difference for a world that is quite trouble.

Jose Rivera’s screenplay definitely takes its time to develop Guevara’s sensibility about the ways of the world as he goes from this middle-class med student with a girlfriend who wants him to travel to America. Yet, some of the things he sees such as a mining couple who lost their jobs due to their affiliation with the Communist party as well as death and all sorts of things. While the Granado character is portrayed as a man of humor who has a lust for life, he is also a man that can bullshit his way through anything and get things done as he would be the person that Guevara would need to travel through South America. Their encounters with some of these atrocities in South America which would culminate with them working at the Amazon at a leper colony. Rivera’s script doesn’t go for any kind of structure but rather something loose that pays true to what Guevara and Granado would encounter without the need to overemphasize many of the politic and social context of the story. Especially as the film features a lot of voice-over narration from Guevara’s perspective to play into his own development.

Walter Salles’ direction is entrancing not just for the way he captures the sense of unpredictability of the road film but also one that would be an experience that would change two men. Though half of the film is spent with the two men on a motorcycle that barely works, it has this liveliness where Salles shoots on location in different colonies based on the books along with some moments that play into the development of these two men. Some of which is presented in handheld camera shots or with a simple more controlling camera work where Salles plays into this unique world that is full of life but also one in turmoil considering that it is filled with indigenous people who are disconnected from the rest of the world. Salles would use some voiceover narration to express Guevara’s reflections on the world such as a key scene at Machu Picchu that played his own struggle with the ways of the world. Even as Salles would find some hope in this leper colony in the way Guevara would defy something that he thinks couldn’t be done to reveal that anything is possible. Overall, Salles crafts a very engaging yet intoxicating film about the road trip that would shape the life of a young Che Guevara.

Cinematographer Eric Gautier does great work with the film‘s very beautiful cinematography from some of the naturalistic look of the film‘s many exterior settings to some low-key lights for some of its interiors. Editor Daniel Rezende does excellent work in the editing in creating a few montages as well as jump-cuts and other stylistic flourishes to play into the looseness of the story. Production designer Carlos Conti, with art directors Graciela Oderigo, Laurent Ott, and Maria Eugenio Suerio, does nice work with the few set pieces such as the houses Guevara and Granado go to as well as the shelter of the leper colony.

Costume designers Beatriz De Benedetto and Marisa Urruti do terrific work with the period costumes with the dresses the women wear to the more rugged look of the men. Sound designer Frank Gaeta does fantastic work with the sound to capture some of the aspects of the locations along with some of the moments in the cities to capture some of the small parties and the sound of the motorcycle. The film’s music by Gustavo Santaolalla is phenomenal for its mixture of folk music with some electric guitar that is low-key yet very entrancing to play into the sense of the journey while music supervisor Adrian Nicolas Sosa creates a wonderful soundtrack filled with the music of the times from those countries plus some traditional pieces and a song by Jorge Drexler for the film’s final credits.

The casting by Walter Rippell is superb as it features some notable small performances from Jorge Chiarella as a Peruvian contact they stay at, Mercedes’ Moran as Guevara’s mother, Jean Pierre Noher as Guevara’s father, Antonella Costa as an ailing woman suffering from leprosy, and Mia Maestro as Guevara’s girlfriend Chichina. Rodrigo de la Serna is marvelous as Alberto Granado as this guy who can bullshit his way through anything while looking for a good time but also be someone who can be very helpful. Finally, there’s Gael Garcia Bernal in an incredible performance as the young Che Guevara as a young doctor with a lot of ideals as he comes of age into seeing what is happening in South America as Bernal brings a sensitivity and earnestness to the role in display Guevara as a young man who later create a revolution.

The Motorcycle Diaries is an outstanding film from Walter Salles that features great performances from Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna. The film is a truly beautiful yet captivating story about the journey that would shape the life of a young Che Guevara before he becomes a revolutionary. In the end, The Motorcycle Diaries is a magnificent film from Walter Salles.

Walter Salles Films: (A Grande Arte) - (Foreign Land) - (Central Station) - (Midnight (1998 film)) - (Behind the Sun) - (Dark Water (2005 film)) - (Linha de Passe) - (On the Road (2012 film))

Related: Che

© thevoid99 2014


Chris said...

I love road movies, and I agree this is an enjoyable one. I think it's Walter Salles' best. Was both enlightening and entertaining to see the circumstances that shaped Guevara's outlook on life.

thevoid99 said...

I saw this at a free screening and it's certainly one of the finest road films I had ever seen. I would consider this a fine companion piece to Steven Soderbergh's film on Che Guevara.