How do you write a review for a film that has been universally acclaimed and features as its subject a culture icon that has become the very symbol of rebellion and political individualism? Simple – you block out the hyperbole and approach the same film with the objective knives of a butcher. I did just that but I still fell in love with the austere beauty, the eloquence of Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries,” a film based on the journals of Che Guevera, the leader of the Cuban Revolution. Please be warned if you’re looking for an all-encompassing biography on the Cuban legend. “The Motorcycle Diaries” is intentionally episodic covering only a key period in the young Che’s life.
As film’s opening title card will tell you, it's about ‘two lives running parallel for a while’ which is a reference to the journal the 23-year-old Che’s (Gael Garcia Bernal) kept during his road trip with his friend, Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna). The two friends decided to trek across Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Peru in order to do their medical residency at a leper colony. But this journey which started out as misguided adventurism, a rites-of-passage to manhood, became both literal and metaphorical for Che as he undergoes a profound change in his perception of the world around him. “The Motorcycle Diaries” is his story up to the time when he realised his true calling. But the film becomes richer for its exploration of the socio-political infallibility and its meditation on basic human compassion.
Director Walter Salles with his cinematographer Eric Gautier have captured with great beauty, the lush scenery of Latin America and the daily lives of people that inhabit it. There is some wonderful surrealism in the film – this Salles uses during Che’s moments of introspection and the visual allegory runs parallel to young Che’s building ambition. I would particularly want to draw your attention to the genius of editing, scoring and cinematography during Che’s climatic swim across a river that stands as symbolism for his determination to transcend his affluent roots and embrace the common man’s plight. Now I disgress – at the risk of soiling such fervent adulation for Che by the film makers, it is my moral duty to discuss the real Che Guevera. He makes a convenient folk hero for those who are not aware of his repressive and authoritarian philosophy. It is held by those who have taken a closer look at Che’s political ideology that this revolutionary was in fact a right-winger disguised as a communist. Although it is said that he loved his people, his patience for their freedom to dissent and their civil liberties was fairly limited.
But “The Motorcycle Diaries” is a passionate affair. We never doubt if angel-faced Bernal as Che is not the idealistic do-gooder that Che allegedly was. Authenticity and real history are perhaps the film’s greatest enemies. Knowing what I know, would I be able to accept Salles’ loving ode to Che Guevera? It’s a tricky situation that results in a verdict that has been determined with great difficulty. Ultimately, I reward the film for its faith in a higher moral coda – the need, not want, for human compassion.
- by Adnan Khan [Rated 4.5 out of 5]