THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
Review by Ed Nguyen
Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mía Maestro, Gustavo Bueno, Jorge
Director: Walter Salles
Audio: Spanish 5.1, French 5.1
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Making-of documentary, deleted scenes, A Moment with Gael García Bernal, A Moment with Alberto Granado, Tomo Uno (Take One) with Gael García Bernal, Music Of The Road featurette, cast and crew filmographies
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: February 15, 2005
is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?”
is the essence of a truly memorable road trip?
Is its worth measured in the distance traveled, the time elapsed, or the
experiences garnered? Is a road
trip merely an excuse to reach point A from point B, or is the process of the
journey itself fundamentally more life-affirming than the actual arrival?
Today, many people have the wrong impression of what constitutes a
memorable road trip. Most families
accept an unoriginal and banal concept - a comfortable but dull ride in a big,
lumbering SUV with cool, conditioned air circulating inside while a portable DVD
player entertains the backseat passengers.
This is, in short, entirely the wrong approach.
within a mobile steel cage that utterly isolates passengers from the outside
world defeats the very purpose and joy of an ideal road trip.
The air must be tasted, each bump in the road must be felt; our hair must
be salted with the breath of the untamed winds.
These experiences demand that insignificant “creature comforts” be
ignored or dismissed entirely. After
all, nobody ever remembers the uneventful journey in which nothing happens and
everything goes smoothly. We only
fondly recall, years later, those colorful treks flavored by annoying mechanical
breakdowns, ill-advised detours down some strange country road, and the
exhilaration (or bewilderment) of being utterly lost in a strange land.
Any consequent flare-up of temper over petty matters merely adds further
spice to the journey. Therein lies
the true essence of the memorable road trip.
best time to undertake such an adventure is in one's carefree youth, when the
daily worries and hassles of everyday existence have yet to sap a bold and
spirited wanderlust. For most
people, youth is that fleeting instance in life when optimism, boundless energy,
and a confident aura of invincibility seemingly prevail over all obstacles.
Our hearts are touched with fire, and our spirits known no bounds.
In this springtime of our lives, with the span of limitless years
stretching before our mind's conceptual horizon, we have little to fear from
failure or delays. Anything and
everything is possible.
then, is a time for exploration, for amassing the wealth of adventures which
will form the nucleus of our later philosophies and personal ideologies.
In the trials and tribulations of youth, the origin of our dreams and
aspirations is created. These experiences will ultimately influence the true measure
of a person and his subsequent achievements.
de motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries, 2004) is an intimate reflection of one such
experience, a rite of passage for young Ernesto "El Fuser" Guevara de
la Serna (Gael García Bernal). Soon
to graduate into his new profession as a specialist in the treatment of leprosy,
twenty-three year old Ernesto has planned for some time to take several months
off from his studies for one final hurrah - a road trip through thousands of
miles of the vast South American expanse. Ernesto
will be accompanied by his close friend Alberto "Mial" Granado
(Rodrigo De la Serna), a self-proclaimed “wandering scientist” with a dream
of finishing the journey by his thirtieth birthday.
Together, both young men share a restless passion for the open road, and
Ernesto in particular determines to embark upon his cathartic journey, with or
without the blessings of his family.
youth and vitality compel him to make this journey before life passes him by.
He would not wish to end up, as Alberto dutifully points out to his young
friend on the eve of their departure, as an old and weary man sitting alone and
forgotten in a local café, nodding off into a daydream about a lifetime of
opportunities not taken or paths not visited.
on January 4, 1952 from Buenos Aires, Argentina, the two young Argentines begin
their road trip. It will be a trek
through the very heart of South America to explore a continent they know only
from books. The trip will take the
two adventurers west to Patagonia and into Chile, then north along the Andes to
Machu Picchu, and next to the San Pablo leper colony in the Peruvian Amazon
before finally concluding in the Guajira Peninsula in Venezuela.
Their grand adventure will ultimately carry both young men over twelve
thousand kilometers of South American backcountry.
sole mean of transportation is Alberto's classic 1939 "Norton 500"
motorbike, christened "The Mighty One." It may be old and not entirely stable, but this motorcycle
amounts to the men's only faithful roadside companion (at least for the initial
leg of their journey). Unfortunately,
neither Ernesto nor Alberto is a particularly adept motorcyclist.
The Norton being a notoriously difficult bike to handle, the two men take
frequent tumbles onto the dirt roads and pebble roads of their journey, and
their motorbike, already creaky and worn, irreparably breaks down in sections as
the days transpire. Even so, all
bumps, bruises, and countless little delays aside, Ernesto and Alberto persevere
onward, walking alongside the bike if needed and generally enjoying their
the pair, Alberto is the more colorful and charismatic character.
He regularly employs an abundance of charm and clever ruses to elicit
sympathy, food, and shelter from locals along the journey.
Ernesto is the more quietly thoughtful one, content to observe and to
slowly assimilate the experiences which will eventually alter his social
a brief detour to Miramar, Argentina, home of Ernesto's girlfriend, Chichina (Mía
Maestro), Ernesto and Alberto turn northward along the Perúvian coast.
Early on, a gusty night storm steals away their tent, yet neither rain
nor snow can delay the journey for long as Ernesto and Alberto continue onwards,
making the rounds of local food markets and small town communal dances along the
way. There is occasional melancholy for the people and places left
behind but always excitement for all that is still to follow.
Their travels take them through the Desierto de Atacama and even onto the
Amazon River. They cross a desert together, they starve, they freeze, and
when “The Mighty One” can no longer continue with them on their journey,
Ernesto and Alberto shoulder their backpacks and take to the roads by foot.
March, they reach Valparaíso, Chile, where Ernesto begins to recognize that the
ties to his past are being slowly severed.
From this pivotal point onwards, The
Motorcycle Diaries diverges upon a more contemplative and introspective
path. The next stage of the journey
begins in mid-May in Lima, Perú when Ernesto and Alberto meet Hugo Pesce,
director of Perú’s leper treatment program.
Dr. Pesce provides them with references to a leper colony in San Pablo,
Perú, and by early June, Ernesto and Alberto arrive at the colony via riverboat
for the final stage of their journey. It
is a stay during which, as Dr. Pesce hopes, Ernesto and Alberto will each learn
important lessons about the value of life, lessons which will thereafter change
more somber tone, a remarkable development in which the nature of the film
changes from a fanciful and light-hearted buddy road trip film into something
deeper and more affecting, reveals the true heart of the film.
A respite at Machu Picchu affords Ernesto time to reflect upon the
centuries-old plight of the native South American Indians, who possess a
long-dormant potential for self-determination and emancipation from social
injustice. It is a moment of
epiphany for the impressionable young man, and later encounters with further
Indians only contribute to Ernesto's changing personal ideals.
The Motorcycle Diaries evolves into more of a pseudo-documentary
than a straight narrative, reflecting South America’s diverse ethnicities and
multiple cultures. In this way, the
latter half of The Motorcycle Diaries
ultimately demonstrates Ernesto's transformation from a mere doctor of the body
and physique into a nobler healer for the heart and spirit of the people.
with all good things, the parting of the ways for Ernesto and Alberto eventually
arrives in Caracas, Venezuela on July 26, 1952.
After a trek together of over twelve kilometers during which both young
men bonded not only with themselves but with the many peoples of their travel,
the two men would not meet again for another eight years.
Both men would accomplish great, world-changing achievements in their
later lives, helping to fulfill a vision of a more united South American people,
but that, as the saying goes, is a remarkable story for another day.
is based on the true journey as recounted in “Notas de viaje” by Ernesto
Guevara (in his letters home and diary entries during the journey) and “Con el
Che por Latinoamérica” by Alberto Granado.
The Motorcycle Diaries even
closes with a poignant shot of the real Alberto Granado, while the closing
credits include actual photographs of Alberto Granado and Ernesto Guevara
together. With shades of Werner
Herzog’s Aguirre: the Wrath of God
and Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También,
this film celebrates the spirit and beauty of the Latin American landscape and
its ethnic people. Such things
simply cannot be experienced within the confines of an enclosed road vehicle.
After all, who knows how the unfiltered sights and sounds of a
life-defining journey, experienced in the fresh air and unencumbered by rigid
time schedules or pre-planning, may alter one's perception of society and
is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format.
Colors and skin tones are generally realistic.
Details are crisp and always distinguishable even in the film's many
nocturnal or rainy scenes. The
video quality looks very good.
film is presented in its original Spanish with an alternate French dubbed track.
Portions of the soundtrack are also in Quechua, the ancient Incan
language. The film is
dialogue-driven but showcases many instances of cultural music and natural
ambient sounds from the Latin American countryside.
English and French subtitles are also available but do not translate the
date and distance captions (in Spanish) which appear frequently in the film.
Even so, just keep in mind that the start date is January 4, 1952 and the
end date is July 26, 1952 (with all distances measured in kilometers), and you
should be able to follow the film's chronology easily enough.
listen for Jorge Drexler's "Al Otro Lado Del Río" during the closing
credits. This was the first Spanish
language melody to win an Academy Award for Best Song.
around our America has changed me more than I thought.
I am not me anymore.”
was produced by Robert Redford and distributed by Universal under its
independent "Focus Features" label.
Other recent entries under this label have included such acclaimed films
as Lost in Translation, Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Swimming
Pool. Brief clips for these
films as well as The Ice Harvest, Far from Heaven, Winter
Passing, The Motorcycle Diaries,
and many more pop up whenever this disc is loaded into a DVD player.
Fortunately, should you grow tired of seeing them, these three minutes of
promo spots can be bypassed directly to the main menu at any time.
there are two separate sets of menus and screen selections.
One set is in English, and the other is in Spanish.
Otherwise, both sets are identical.
are a handful of short bonus offerings on this disc. The “Making-of” documentary (22 min.) includes interviews
with the cast and crew about the film. It
is, however, essentially a promotional featurette, complete with critical praise
and award listings from multiple international sources.
more interest are three deleted scenes (8 min.), presented without commentary or
explanation. They are viewed back
to back and appear to be fully edited and complete sequences, too.
The first scene involves an amusing outdoor picnic.
The second is a funny and bumpy hitchhiking ride with a “blind as a
bat” driver along a gravel path. The
third scene is a conversation between Ernesto and some inhabitants of the leper
colony. In general, these scenes are all worthwhile and were probably
cut from the film for length than for any other reason.
Moment with Alberto Granado
(3 min.) is an interview with the real Alberto Granado as he recalls his
adventures with Ernesto Guevara. His
remembrances reflect the general veracity of the film’s depicted events.
This short featurette shows Granado’s family life today along with
vintage photographs of Granado and Guevara in their younger days.
Moment with Gael García Bernal
(3 min.) is a short conversation with the actor.
This flashy interview was originally televised on Telemundo, the
Spanish-language broadcast network and offers a mini-biography of the rapidly
rising film star. Bernal also
briefly describes his motivations for becoming an actor and his thoughts about
portraying the Latin American revolutionary and folk hero Guevara.
Uno (Take One) with Gael García Bernal (2 min.) provides Bernal with
another opportunity to discuss his still-young career and his thoughts on the
film. Bernal’s comments in this mun2
featurette, made for the Latino entertainment cable network, are initially
similar to those found in the preceding featurette but soon delve into Bernal's
personal philosophy about acting.
Of The Road
(3 min.) is an interview with Gustavo Santaolalla.
The composer describes how he was first attracted to the project and how
his score for The Motorcycle Diaries relates
well to the drama and emotion of the film's images.
there is a cast and filmmakers section that lists biographies and filmographies
for the film’s stars but mostly for the crew, including director Walter Salles
and executive producer Robert Redford. Remember the names of Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la
Serna; both actors give truly promising, star-making performances in The