The Michigan Daily discovered in April 2005 that several articles written by arts editor Marshall W. Lee did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. The article below appears to contain plagiarism, and the Daily no longer stands by its content.
Fifteen years before his execution by a Bolivian firing squad in 1967, Argentina’s Ché Guevara was not an icon of guerrilla warfare and socialist idealism. He was not yet a radical mercenary or a repressive ruler, celebrating hatred as the key to the revolution. Put simply, in the spring of 1952 Ché was not yet Ché; he was merely Ernesto Guevara, a naïve, asthmatic medical student on the verge of discovering his insurgent spirit.
Energetic and mesmerizing, “The Motorcycle Diaries” recounts with glee and vigor the nine-month cross-continental trek of 23 year-old Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal, “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) and his biochemist pal Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) aboard a junked out 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle ironically dubbed “La Ponderosa” (The Mighty One). Jose Rivera’s screenplay is based on the diaries both men kept during their 8,000 mile march up the spine of South America (from the snow capped Chilean Andes to the Peruvian Amazon), a journey of self-discovery that would serve as the impetus to young Ernesto’s nascent social and political enlightenment. The challenge for director Walter Salles (“Central Station”), then, is twofold: to keep the jaunt interesting for audiences who don’t know or don’t care that Guevara would later become one of the 20th century’s most recognizable rebels, and to refrain from exploiting the sympathies of liberals who have the icon’s grizzled mug plastered across their vintage T-shirts.
Fortunately, Salles is an extraordinary and intelligent director who is more interested in who the two boys are than in what they will inevitably become, and “The Motorcycle Diaries,” for all its humor and pathos, is essentially a gorgeous, dreamy travelogue. In terms of dramatic build, the movie is sometimes lacking. The knowledge that the events depicted onscreen are grounded in reality doesn’t prevent them from tending towards the disconnected and the anticlimactic. Still, much of the film’s power is in its slowing arc, in Salles exploration of one man’s subtle but significant transformation over the course of a long and fantastic journey. Much credit goes to the charismatic Bernal, who refuses to overplay the role. After discovering the sorry state of indigenous Chilean mine workers, he reacts with a conflicted outrage and fury entirely devoid of ostentation, and in this moment the audience can see fully all that Ernesto is and all that Ché will become.
Shot in both 16 and 35 mm film in 30 locations along the actual route of Guevara and Granado’s travels, the film uses local actors from each region to create a road-map of weary faces, images periodically captured in black-and-white stills which suggest the sensation of a painful and haunting memory. French cinematographer Eric Gautier’s camera has a frenetic, wild energy that occasionally catches and lingers on small but significant human moments framed by the expansive, conflicted beauty of South America. The continent, like the two young men bounding through it in a reckless, romantic search for adventure, has the repressed and wild energy of a gathering storm. The film ends on the anxious and uncertain verge of this climax, with a silent and somber Ernesto staring down from the sky at the country which has changed him and which he is determined to change.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.