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The Motorcycle Diaries | Review

Before the Revolution

Episodic travelogue shows the psychological transformation found in a 2-wheel, 2-person journey.

Respectfully drawing from accounts found on the pages of Ernesto Guevara’s staple novel and from co-traveler Dr. Alberto Granado’s own words, Brazilian director Walter Salles’ social melodrama depicts the periless, spiritual journey of two men through 1950’s Latin America. For the filmmaker, it appears to be more about connecting the multiple locations on a map and filling up the film’s narrative with true faces and unearthing the internal quest of a man whose iconic face is found in today’s college dorm rooms, Rage Against the Machine videos and as an imprint on designer t-shirts.

A prelude to Soderbergh’s soon-to-be-in-production of Che, The Motorcycle Diaries immortalizes Che’s almost mythical ten thousand-mile voyage,- a fun, comical site-seeing tour that included a newspaper feature, skirt-chasing accounts and free-meal ticket moments. When the travesty of a bike coughs up its last breath it is only then that the pair begin to see things up-close in microscopic detail instead from a removed, backseat tourist view. The film taps into the youthful pursuit for new experiences and somewhere on the richly beautiful route that takes them from native Argentina to the goal-line of Peru, Salles carefully introduces the notion of innocence lost and on the discovery for humanity. Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien) evokes the sort of naivety and the openness found in young spirits in traveling experiences, perhaps the reason why the film works especially well is because one doesn’t feel that watching a film on Che, but instead, of an honest man having a personal awakening within a shared experience. The films end credits show how actor Rodrigo De La Serna who plays Granado, bares a strikingly accurate resemblance to the person he was impersonating.

Despite some precisely fitted separate episodes dropped in the narrative that unfortunately overly magnify the trigger events for young Che, – one important sequence between featuring a leper colony does not have the desired impact, however Salles manages to bridge the romantic beat-up motorcycle and buddy-buddy voyage with a beautiful backdrop along with the type of intimate moments that would change a young man’s thinking. Salles avoids overly stroking this picture with his usual visual splendor; just in the geographical displacement alone does cinematographer Eric Gautier’s earth and vegetational tones offer an easy, breath-taking palette one that is poignantly and penetratingly filmic. For the most part, Salles emphasizes the connections between the film’s characters with an assortment of culture-clashes in a docu-moment mode featuring exchanges between his actors and non-actors. This prescribes the type of encounters which probably not only affected the famed revolutionary figure but the entire production crew as well, who most likely were met with the exact same undemocratic conditions that the subjects had originally encountered 50 years back.

An American production would have tried to make a hero status out of the young Che, and would have displayed him in un-involving postcards images, instead Salles attempts to tap into how the man could and still inspires today. Although, The Motorcycle Diaries won’t leave an imprint the size of (Central Station), it is nonetheless a powerfully organic, intimately insightful and lyrically poetic film showing the grass roots of a legendary figure, this is arguably one of the better travelogue films in recent time.

Viewed in Spanish with English subtitles.

Rating 3.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric splits his time between his home base in Montreal, NYC, and is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. Top 3 from 2016: Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt), Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve), Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)

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