Saturday, 19 July, 2008

The Motorcycle Diaries - Review

Many will call me an adventurer - and that I am, only one of a different sort: one of those who risks his skin to prove his platitudes.

-Ernesto Guevara

This afternoon, I watched one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Having come home after barely 2 weeks in college, I was back to my old ways, ie, waking up at noon. After finishing breakfast, I switched on the TV and was surfing channels,in the hope of finding something interesting to munch the minutes away. Then, I saw the scheduler saw Zee Studio was gonna screen the film- The Motorcycle Diaries. For the benefit of those in the dark, this is a first hand account by a man called Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, in plain English - Che Guevara( the bandana guy on the T-Shirts,for the few of you out there who don't know about this great man's legacy).

Call it coincidence, but only yesterday, I was reading a biography of Che on my friend's computer. I was hooked on to his adventures and exploits, but had to cut my tryst with the revolutionary short, for I had a class to attend(Anna University Attendance Rule SUCKS!!!!!). So naturally, when I learnt that this movie was on air, I was interested. And I sure as hell wasn't disappointed one bit.

The movie begins, with a short profile of young Ernesto, a medical student at the University of Buenos Aires, his asthmatic attacks, his passion for Rugby which earned him the moniker "Fuser" and his affectionate family. Ernesto and his friend Alberto Granado, a bio-chemistry student, plan on embarking on a tour of the American continent (throughout the movie, the word- America is used to refer to South America, and not the US :| a strong statement in itself). Ernesto bids a fond farewell to his family and the 23 year old sets off with his friend who is older by 6 years, on a rickety old Norton 500 motorcycle, referred to by Granado as Don Quixote's Rosinante.

The 2 amigos on La Poderosa

Their journey takes them through the length and breadth of the continent, across country roads and towns where the economic divide is a gaping canyon. The screenplay is so fluid that you will find yourself flowing with the adventurers past the wonderful landscape of America. Gael Garcia Bernal (remember Amores Perros?) plays Ernesto with so much ease and poise that he becomes the character himself. And Rodrigo de la Serna portrays Alberto Granado with a touch of Tuco-style humor(Tuco of The Good The Bad and The Ugly) and a sort of elder brother attitude towards his younger comrade. Their chemistry also adds to the beauty of this film. Trivia- Rodrigo is a second cousin to the real Che Guevara :) . As they progress through the continent, first on La Poderosa ("The Mighty One"- Granado's bike) and later, on foot, hitchhiking, on boats and by air, their friendship is all the more evident.

The movie also showcases the transition of Guevara, from a fairly-rich adventurous youth to the revolutionary that he would become. Particularly, the scene in the Inca ruins, where he attributes the fall of the Incas to Spain, to the fact that the Spaniards "had guns". There is a romance angle as well, as Ernesto spends about a week with his lady love Chichina, and when they part, he isn't too convincing with his "I'll come back for you" line. Nevertheless, Chichina gives him 15$ to buy her a swimsuit if he ever reaches the shores of North America. Throughout the movie, Ernesto holds on to this, despite Granado's frequent requests for the money,to improve their pathetic in many stages of the journey.

At one point, the duo meet a communist couple looking for work in a mine, which marks another great change in young Ernesto's character. His heart goes out to them so much that he gives them Chichina's 15 $. The movie also depicts Guevara's frequent asthmatic bouts which would haunt him for the rest of his life. Granado's loyalty to his comrade is also very much evident throught the film. The movie is dotted with several humorous incidents which make you smile one minute, and the scene shifts the next moment, making your heart ache at the sight of the sad state of suffering poor.
Granado and Guevara hiking on foot

The major turning point of the film comes when the 2 men from Argentina make their way to a leper colony in Peru, where Granado and Ernesto break conventions with their friendly attitude towards the patients, who are separated from the healthy by the Amazon. This metaphor, of the river itself dividing the people is poignant reminder of the underlying theme of the movie. The duo manage to liven up the colony with their infectious enthusiasm and spirit. They even join the patients for a football match.

The doctors, nurses and the nuns organise a big party on the night of Ernesto's birthday, which surprises and moves the young man. But his heart lies with the suffering of the poor on the other side of the lake. In a moving speech, Ernesto proposes a toast to a Unified America. Granado noticing the sparks of change in his dear friend is portrayed wonderfully in this scene. Ernesto then goes out of the party house,to the river bank. He stands there, planning to make a symbolic last journey across the river,to be with "the people" despite Granado's futile cries that it was too dark and he has asthma. Ernesto's crossing of the river,swimming against a strong current, battling not only the water but also his asthma, symbolises the triumph of human spirit, and as he is pulled out of the water on the other side by the people of the leper colony, there are celebrations on both sides.

Ernesto and Granado set off to Venezuela, after bidding a fond farewell to the people of Peru. Then at Venezuela, the 2 friends part ways, with Granado planning on settling down in life, while his friend is about to embark on a different kind of journey. The movie ends with the real-life Granado looking at a plane taking off, and photographs of the 2 friend's actual journey through the continent.

Please donot be put off by the fact that the movie is in SPANISH. It is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Gael Garcia and Roberto de la Serna deliver memorable performances as they take us along with them in their unforgettable adventure. This is one of those movies which will leave a lasting impression on you, with it's well crafted screenplay, great camerawork, wonderful acting, and above all, the plain simplicity, which makes you identify with the characters and scenes in the film.

I am going with a 4 out of 5 for Walter Salles adaptation of the first person accounts of Ernesto and Granado about their adventure of a lifetime.

The Actual Route taken by Ernesto and Alberto

I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a Man.

-Che Guevara to his would be executioner,seconds before his death

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