For one moment, even if for the few minutes that it takes to read this review, put down your political beliefs, biases, and prejudices. That’s all it takes to understand that director Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries is a sincerely touching and beautiful movie.
Based on the diaries kept by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his close friend Alberto Granado, the film is Salles’ way of giving us a firsthand look at Latin America through the eyes of two impassioned wanderers. Armed with little more than food and a deadbeat motorcycle known as “La Poderosa” (the powerful), the audience watches as Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) set off on their elaborate journey in early 1952, unaware that they were about to have their lives changed forever.
The journey presents endless challenges for the two adventurers as they travel through Argentina, Chile and Peru both physically and mentally. Along the way, they endure the wraths of nature, human cruelty and injustice, as well as the strength of friendship, the latter being quite possibly the best-developed aspect of the movie.
This is because, from the beginning, The Motorcycle Diaries carries an aura of authenticity, where all the elements of a film intertwine together with incredible ease. Many of the actors, for example, are locals who simply mingled with the cast on camera.
The lead actors-the unflinchingly wonderful Garcia Bernal and the cunningly humorous, heartwarming de la Serna-play out the friendship between Guevara and Granado flawlessly. Garcia Bernal’s ability to portray the pain of a mind living out a revolution coupled with de la Serna’s sharp humor and spirit takes this movie to a new height of realism (it was reported that the two actually went and met the Guevara family as well as the real, now 80-year-old, Granado, who makes a poignant cameo).
In addition, almost all of the Latin American villages and settings were filmed in their actual locations. Thus the movie boasts amazing cinematography, which captures the underlying surreal beauty of Latin America while making you feel like you’ve hopped on La Poderosa yourself.
But Salles’ best accomplishment is his way of presenting his message: let the world change you and you can change the world-sans politics. Although a few political undertones slip their way into the movie, Salles successfully dodges commentaries on the revolutionary Che Guevara. Instead, he offers audiences a simple, but genuine journey into the hearts of two men on the road to discovering themselves long before history ever could.
Rafael Sangiovanni can be contacted at