> Volume 6 > Number 29


Walter Salles

Gael García Bernal
Rodrigo De la Serna
Mía Maestro
Mercedes Morán
Jorge Chiarella

Release: 24 Sep. 04

The Motorcycle Diaries


Walter Salles mostly makes stuffy, overdrawn caricatures of the mistreatment of South Americans, exiled by family, culture, nation, and self. They are usually wanderers who have found some confidant to help them on their way to finding themselves, and their journeys come as pedantic treatises from Salles neo-Marxist politics. One of the most amazing feats by Alfonso Cuarón in Y Tu Mamá También is that he succeeded in making the film Salles has failed at making for a decade.

So comes The Motorcycle Diaries, a film in which Walter Salles uses Cuarón’s ideas to pose his own past statements. Again, the story is of trip through Central America as two young boys grow into the fully defined men who will go home. But the twist is that one of the men is Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the revolutionary figure in Cuba’s communist takeover. Played by Gael García Bernal, Julio from Y Tu Mamá También, the young Guevara is an apolitical figure at the beginning of his motorcycle journey up the eastern coast of South America with friend Alberto Granado. The people he meets on the way, though, are those who struggled (and, in many cases, still do) under the South American regimes, many embracing a totalitarian form of capitalism, and their stories of starvation, homelessness, and illness, change him into the proletariat champion of the Cuban Revolution.

It’s a not a complete view of Guevara, which is part of the reason why The Motorcycle Diaries work so well. This isn’t necessarily a film about the radical, but about the forming of a revolutionary. Watching it was like watching The Grapes of Wrath, with its humanitarian sociological questions posed to the post-Depression audience. The sidebars of the film are integral to Guevara’s awakening exactly because they are the forgotten masses who’ve been lost in the free enterprise of South America’s corrupt businessmen and governments. For the first time, Salles’ own convictions are fully defined in a film, and, as the film concludes on an emotionally perfect touch (accompanied by Gustavo Santaolalla’s amazing score), he becomes a successful radical in his own right

©2004, David Perry,, 16 July 2004