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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"We could feel the world changing—or was it us?"
DVD ReviewThere's nothing quite as satisfying as a good road movie, be it Dorothy off to see the Wizard, Bob and Bing on their way to Singapore or anywhere else, Jack Nicholson and Otis Young taking young Randy Quaid to the brig, or any of the other countless motion pictures that are about, on some level, the call of the open road. No doubt the impetus to make The Motorcycle Diaries came from the fact that one of the principal characters taking this particular journey went on to become one of the most famous revolutionaries of the second half of the 20th century; but this movie isn't worshipful or overly respectful of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Instead, it's a smartly told tale about two buddies taking a trip, and subtly illustrates the raising of the political consciousness of one of them. If you've got a lot of knowledge about Guevara, you'll be particularly attuned to the low rumblings of revolution; but even if you aren't, you're likely to like this charming movie, for its craft, its empathy, and its keen sense of time and place.
1952: Ernesto Guevara, 23, is a promising medical student from a bourgeois Argentinean family, but before he finishes the last lap of his studies, his pal, Alberto Granado, a research scientist about to turn 30, convinces Guevara to take a trip with him through Latin America on an ancient motorcycle. Though his family doesn't cotton to the idea, Guevara is tempted; the convincer is the opportunity to visit Chichina, his girlfriend, off with family in the country. So the two young men pile their stuff onto the bike they dub The Mighty One, and set out in search of adventure. In many ways, this image of them hitting the trail is evocative of another time, with their leather helmets, their Sopwith Camel goggles, their silk scarves; then again, it's two young men, one who misses his girl, the other who frankly is just looking to get laid, two buddies in search of adventure, like many guys long before and since.
Walter Salles' movie traces the journey; the screenplay is based on Guevara's journals and on Granado's recollections, but this is no mere travelogue, nor a revolutionary equivalent to something like PT 109. The Guevara we meet is fairly conventional, and while it would be overstating the case to say that the trip transforms him, you can see how the experience helped to change the course of his life. He is brutally honest, to a fault; when a little white lie would be the polite thing to do, Guevara cannot help but say exactly what's on his mind. Is this a character flaw, or a key to his greatness? It's not a question with a pat answer, and Guevara's letters home, read in voiceover, convey his changing mood. For the first time in his life, he has first-hand experience with the working classes of South America; their desperation is palpable and they are in need of help and change, which they won't be getting, in large measure because of the political divisions between countries that Guevara comes to see as artificial and unproductive, to say the least. The most extreme instance of this is the time that he and Granado spend with the doctors and other professionals at a Peruvian leper colony; the Amazon separates the patients from their caretakers, and the unwritten rule is that gloves must be worn at all times when interacting with those with leprosy. Guevara refuses to abide by the rules, which become a proxy for everything that he sees as wrong with the society in which he was raised; though others scream loudly about the risk of infection, Guevara embraces those on the other side of the river, the only person in a position of power to acknowledge the fundamental humanity of those cast off.
Salles is blessed with a fine cast, too, starting with the striking and charismatic Gael García Bernal as Guevara. Bernal is certainly best known in the U.S. for his role in Y tu mamá también; he was very good in that, but he's even better here, conveying the churning in Guevara's soul without giving us too much portentous indicating about his revolutionary figure. It's rare that a historical character whose legacy is so hotly debated is given such dimensionality in a major motion picture, and it's bracing and exciting to watch. Bernal is ably supported especially by Rodrigo de la Serna as Granado, an imp in a lab coat, the spur for adventure; the bond between the two young men is in many ways the motor of the movie, and it always seems heartfelt and genuine. It may be the most enduring image of this smart and canny movie, and it's likely to inform all your future thoughts about Guevara, Antonio Banderas be damned.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: There are some resolution problems with this transfer, which is unfortunate, because it compromises many of the beautiful South American vistas so carefully shot for the movie. But those clarity problems aside, it's not difficult to look at, with saturated colors and no scratching.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: A strong effort here, and a nice balance of dialogue, scoring, and atmospheric and ambient noise.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: The most compelling extra no doubt is A Moment with Alberto Granado (03m:20s), a 2003 conversation with Guevara's traveling companion reflecting on his youth, accompanied by many photographs from the period; it's wonderful to see him, and there's a strong sense that the movie captured the spirit of the time. A package (08m:29s) of three deleted scenes have some good material, but nothing that's too sorely missed in the final cut—in the first, the boys are up to no good at a feast; in the second, they catch a ride with a truck driver who turns out to be blind as a bat; and the last shows Guevara's farewell to the patients at the Peruvian leper colony. A making-of piece (22m:02s) is full of pull quotes and hyperbole (calling this "a major motion picture that may even change the way you look at the world"), along with interviews with Salles, his actors, and executive producer Robert Redford.
You'll also find two worshipful pieces on Bernal that first appeared on TV; the first (02m:53s) is an interview he did with Telemundo, the second (02m:18s) with mun2 television. A brief discussion (03m:12s) with Gustavo Santaolalla, the film's composer, is informative, as are bios and filmographies for three lead actors and eight members of the production team.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsA terrific road movie that ably tells its story while humanizing one of the most mythologized figures in recent history.
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