Friday, October 22, 2004

The Motorcycle Diaries - A Spiritual Ride

Do you remember the old T.V. show, Route 66, where the two young guys and their red M.G. traveled along the highway and got emotionally involved in the lives of the people they met every week?

Well, life doesn’t happen like that. If you’re over the age of 30, you know that. You know that as soon as you go on the road, the only people you’re apt to talk to are waitresses and gas station attendants, and most likely their lives don’t need saving.

However, every young man’s dream is to set out with friend(s) to see the world. And so it was in Argentina, when Ernesto Guevara de la Serna and his friend Alberto Granada took some time out of their student lives, climbed aboard a very shaky motorcycle, and set across South America.

In case we have forgotten, there is another America , south of here, and it’s beautiful. There are no unbelievable stories here for Ernesto and Alberto, just an honest telling of some of the events along the way, bookended by the people’s struggles around them.

The director stops the camera at several points, willing the camera to stay still. The people face the camera, and the audience, telling us a little of their story in their silence as we stare at these “living pictures.” They’re terribly compelling.

The movie, although not a documentary, is told like one but without that usual stilted feeling of a docudrama, based upon Ernesto’s diary. Ernesto, of course, became “Che,” the revolutionary. If you didn’t know that when you sat down to watch this journey, you certainly know it by the end. The route on how Ernesto travels from young man, medical student, to revolutionary is fascinating and illuminating. But even if you didn’t know the end result, the journey would still be fascinating, in part because these two young actors -- Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna -- are so engaging. They urge us to feel their pain, to laugh with them, to go on the journey with them.

I would much rather hop aboard Alberto's hapless motorcycle than Route 66's fantasy M.G., and share the journey with these two very real men. This film succeeds in so many ways, on so many levels, I can truly recommend this film as one of the best you’ll see in 2004.


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