Set in 1952, The Motorcycle Diaries follows two young Argentinians, Ernesto Guevara (Gael Garc?Bernal) and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna), who set out on a road trip to explore Latin America, a continent largely unknown at the time.
Ernesto is a 23-year-old upper-middle class asthmatic medical student specialising in leprology and Alberto, 29, is a biochemist. What begins as an 8,000km adventure, from Argentina to Venezuela via Chile and Peru on a 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle nicknamed La Poderosa, eventually becomes a journey of self-discovery, a coming of age and an awakening of revolutionary hearts.
Brazilian director Walter Salles gained an international reputation with Central Station, his film about life on the streets of Rio. After the film won many awards Salles was approached by the Sundance Institute to bring Che Guevara’s and Alberto Granado’s memoirs and travel diary, Mi Primer Gran Viaje and Con El Che Por Sudam?ca, to the big screen. Puerto Rican playwright Jose Rivera was selected to adapt the screenplay. The Motorcycle Diaries was envisaged as a visually stunning road movie of the heart and soul filled with beautiful women, human kindness and social injustice.
Twenty-six-year-old Mexican actor Gael Garc?Bernal shot to fame with Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien. The Motorcycle Diaries provides him with an opportunity to shake off his usual grungy persona to portray young Ernesto Guevara. Despite his not bearing any physical resemblance to Guevara, Bernal puts in a solid performance as a young man awakening to the world around him and having the time of his life along the way.
Argentinian actor Rodrigo De la Serna is well cast as Alberto Granado and together the actors create the look and feel of buddies seeking greener pastures.
Salles spent years researching the background to the film and visiting actual locations. The result is almost an armchair guide to the continent as the film was shot in 30 locations including the Amazon, the Andes, Patagonia, the Atacama desert and the Peruvian San Pablo Leper Colony all in temperatures ranging from sub-zero to 45 degrees Celsius. Eric Gautier’s cinematography is striking and the film has an authentic 1950s feel.
The Motorcycle Diaries has a lightness of touch about it that almost makes it feel superficial at times. It definitely is not a biopic of the early days of the guerrilla revolutionary leader, El Che, who would later be executed by a Bolivian firing squad in 1967 at the age of 38, but rather a poetic portent of what would come later.
Audiences will have to wait for Steven Soderbergh’s film, slated to star Benicio Del Toro, to see the story of the revolutionary El Che, the man that Ernesto Guevara would become.