A review of “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for strong language and some sexuality

Run Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

 

 

Gael Garcia Bernal inhabits the spirit of Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna with the vim and vigor he brought to Y Tu Mamá También and Amores Perros.

Motorcycle is a road-trip with a soul.  Privileged Buenos Aireans Ernesto and pal Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) have a plan: five hundred miles over four months by way of a broken-down 1939 Norton 500 motorbike, affectionately known as “The Mighty One”.  Buenos Aires to Venezuela via Patagonia and Machu Picchu.

The spare backdrops of early 1950s Latin America and the complex sociology of its vast community are only the beginning.  As Ernesto and Alberto journey the back-roads of their heretofore unseen continent, their eyes are opened to the vast indignities suffered by its people. 

This isn’t your cookie-cutter voyage of self-discovery, involving as it were thwarted romances, the humor of foiled transportation (Mighty One not so mighty after all), the infinite sorrow of proud civilizations reduced to poverty, and a lengthy stint at a formal leper colony.  Eight months and 8,000 miles later, Ernesto’s got himself a highly elevated social conscience that will influence his adult life in spectacular and historical ways.

Ernesto’s story is as riveting as it is simplistic, his upper-middle class roots and slow burn to free himself from narrow-minded provincialism transforming the shy young medical student into a fierce revolutionary and ultimately an anti-capitalist icon.

Bernal plays it cool, self-effacing and charismatic with a thinking-man’s buzz.  Granado is the ideal foil, the comic sidekick with heart and brains to boot.  Pace is deliberate (a bit too much so), Eric Gautier’s cool camerawork refreshingly no-frills and the original diary-to-screenplay translation (based on Guevara’s book of the same name) exceptionally skillful.  Quietly inspiring and rarely over-stepping its bounds, Motorcycle may have Oscar calling.