Two Argentinian medical students, propelled by the romance of travel, set off
from home in Buenos Aires for an adventure on the road. Their intention is
to cross the continent by covering 8,000 miles in eight months on a 1939
Norton 500 motorcycle. But this journey, with its dimensions of difficulty,
exploration and discovery, is more than a travelogue in the guise of youthful
Actually, what we have here is a political biography in the guise of youthful
adventure. By virtue of who these guys are, it's a re-creation of the early
years of Cuban dictator Castro's military and political sidekick, "Che"
Guevara and, accordingly, it's based on the facts provided by two
autobiographies, Ernesto "Che" Guevara's "The Motorcycle Diaries" and Alberto
Granado's, "With Che through Latin America." These two authors are the
characters of the movie in their formative years.
Being an actual journey, it begins on an actual date, January 1952. Ernesto
(Gael Garcia Bernal) is a 23-year old medical student who has learned enough
to have acquired doctoral skills and a bedside manner that's the equal of
Dr. John Carter of "ER" (Noah Wyle). Buddy Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna),
six years older, is a biochemist, a cutup, and the owner of the aging
motorcycle he laughingly calls "La Poderosa", the mighty one, a mechanical
beast that affords the trip some of its funny moments.
Nothing, at first, is taken too seriously. The first stop is Ernesto's
girlfriend Chichina Ferreyra's (Mia Maestro) rich father's estate where he
can't quite commit himself to anything permanent until he sees where his
journey will take him. But, he takes her $US20 to buy her a blouse in the
big city. Once his painful honesty makes him disclose the secret to Alberto,
his friend is constantly on him to spend the money to ease their discomforts
on the road, or to satisfy his own needs, pleas that are consistly rebuffed
by the purity of Ernesto's honesty and loyalty. We're definitely into
building an image here.
As the motorcycle wears its way to a breakdown and money becomes depleted,
the pair finds ways to promote food and shelter at every point and in city
and villages, meeting a varied cross section of society and all the adventure
they set their hearts on. Until, that is, they try to get jobs working as
miners for a large corporation. Here, they meet up with a pair of communists
fleeing persecution who have been rejected for the jobs. This is a turning
point in Ernesto's social consciousness and political destiny.
To amplify this theme and give it more substance, there's a major sequence in
which the two ply their medical training at a leper colony. Immediately,
Ernesto begins his folk hero stature by refusing to abide by the mother
superior's rules calling for doctors to wear gloves when they're attending to
patients. Ernesto not only eschews the questionable protection but he won't
show up for mass, the consequence of which is to be denied food for supper.
That the regard for him, by this time, is not in question, his leper patients
bring him food.
The separated community of doctors and nurses celebrate Ernesto's birthday
and he finds his political voice with a speech of thanks. But, clearly, he's
not be considered all words. His heart is equally with the patients who, on
the other side of the river, can't join the celebration. The boat being gone
from the dock, he swims across a river considered dangerous, to a great
clamor of welcome and admiration, bordering on the biblical. His qualities
of leadership are being established.
When this phase of his life is ended by a return home, the buddies split
up. The serious Ernesto is not ready to make any quick decisions about what
he will do with his life until he has time to reflect on the true meanings of
his experiences and his personal growth.
If the purpose of this film is essentially to support the morality and
romanticized legend of the man who became one of Cuba's liberators, you
couldn't have a better actor to pull it off than Bernal. Calm steadiness and
inner strength seem completely natural to him, effectively set off against
the more impish behavior of Rodrigo's spirited Alberto. And for a biography,
you also couldn't come up with a more entertaining script than Jose Rivera's
dynamic and well paced adaptation.
Director Walter Sales, of course, is in for the greatest credit and highest
regard for what is, quite besides the acclaim and the festival awards, an
accomplishment. With a creative legacy that includes the splendid and moving
"Central Station," his creative vision translates the human condition and
universal motivations to a level of cinematic artistry that should be the
envy of any director in the craft. Here he manages to entertain us with a
feast of character and adventure while preserving the sainthood of his
~~ Jules Brenner