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Moriarty Takes A Ride With THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I’m certainly not the first person to notice this, but it seems to be true that this fall is particularly dense with biographical films. It’s also worth noting that many of these films appear determined to sidestep the typical dramatic pitfalls of the biopic. It’s an admirable goal. So often, when someone tries to encapsulate someone else’s life story into a two-hour time slot, what results is a sort of wax museum/greatest hits package, a surface look at the events that we know without any greater illumination added. Walter Salles neatly avoided that trap with his new film THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, which just opened in limited release, based on two separate books. One was THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES by Ernesto Che Guevara, and the other was TRAVELLING WITH CHE GUEVARA, by Alberto Granada. I’ve never read either, so all I can judge is the film, and it’s a quiet gem, a beautifully made coming-of-age story that wisely focuses on one chapter in the controversial life of Guevara. This isn’t a political movie, but it does illustrate the way someone’s political awakening takes place. At the start of the film, Ernesto’s in his early 20s, a medical student with less than a year of school left. Alberto is a biochemist, a stone’s throw from his 30th birthday, and he’s got a plan for how he wants to celebrate: he wants to take a road trip. “You just want to get laid in every country in South America,” says Ernesto.

”More like every town,” is Alberto’s response. There’s a great rapport between the two, and credit must be given to Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna, who both do excellent work in the film. Bernal’s got a little trouble with his accent, but it’s the sort of thing you won’t notice unless you know the difference between the way Mexicans speak Spanish and the way it’s spoken in Argentina. What’s more important is the way Bernal plays Guevara’s evolution over the course of the trip, and he nails it. When he leaves Buenos Aires, eh’s a well-educated kid from an upper middle-class family, sheltered, athletic but asthmatic. When Alberto offers him the chance to join him on the trip, he can’t resist. There’s an irresistible charm to Alberto the way de la Serna plays him. He’s like a Latin American Groucho Marx, slouching and leering his way across the continent. He’s completely free-spirited, and it’s obvious that Ernesto wants to be like him.

Jose Rivera’s screenplay is deceptively simple. Two quick scenes to show Alberto and Ernesto at home, and then they hop onboard Alberto’s 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle, which they call “La Ponderosa” or “The Mighty One.” It’s not exactly a cutting-edge piece of machinery, and much of the comedy in the first half of the film comes from how the bike either performs or doesn’t. They stop briefly so Ernesto can see his girlfriend, Chichina Ferreyra (Mia Maestro, who ALIAS fans will recognize as The Passenger from Season Three) one last time. What follows over the next eight months and 8,000 miles is episodic in nature, but this isn’t meant to be a plot-driven film. They got across Patagonia, through the Andes, over the Atacama Desert, into the Amazon Basin, up Machu Picchu, and then finally to the San Pablo leper colony near Iquitos, Peru. Rivera and Salles have been careful not to make this a film about the man that Ernesto would eventually become. It’s not overladen with signs of the future of Che. Instead, the film focuses on this clear-eyed kid and his reaction to the people he encounters. Little by little, his conscience is prodded and poke, and Bernal portrays the gradual awakening as a series of small moments instead of one sudden thunderbolt. He never jumps up on a table to rant about revolution. Instead, he struggles to figure out how to express the enormous compassion that threatens to overwhelm him as he encounters homeless miners, riverboat prostitutes, the remains of Incan culture, and the lepers of San Pedro. Through the whole journey, Alberto’s right there by his side to keep things light and occasionally profane, to remind Ernesto about the joys of life, and the way these friends balance each other is what keeps us engaged as an audience.

Eric Gautier’s done strong work as a cinematographer in France. I’m especially fond of his work on INTIMACY. He’s never had a more spectacular canvass to paint on than he does here, though, and he rises to the occasion. I’m going to South America for the first time in the spring, and this movie’s lush imagery has only stoked my anticipation even further. The film’s beautifully edited, too, with real grace and wit. Between this and last year’s CITY OF GOD, I’d say Daniel Rezende is one of the best cutters working right now in any country. Special mention must also be made of the score by Gustavo Santaolalla, who also scored AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS. This music is gorgeous and haunting, dependent largely on a solo guitar, and it feels like he found the acoustic equivalent to the continent’s soul.

If I have any complaint, it would involve the film’s coda. Salles strikes just the right final note between Ernesto and Alberto before they separate, and then he uses a series of title cards to sum up the rest of Che’s life in a couple of quick, broad strokes. He suddenly pours on the politics he so deftly avoided for the rest of the film, and then cuts to one shot of the real Alberto, who still lives in Cuba today. It seems like an odd misstep, oversimplifying something his film doesn’t even deal with, especially after such a sure-footed journey, but it’s just a small thing. Overall, this is a trip well worth taking.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 27, 2004, 9:27 a.m. CST

    I won't say first....

    by Fart_Master_Flex

    though I am. This movie looks incredible. I am constantly awe struck with the back drop of South America. The preview alone made this film look incredible. But having read the books it is based on, I am salivating to see it.

  • The list of things that made Che a contemptable human being is long - he was a viscous murderer, plain and simple. That our generation seems so content to slap his picture up on their walls and wear his image on their shirts because he was "good-looking" shows nothing less than mass delusion and moral depravity. This man killed many fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, and set back the cause of South American Democracy for DECADES - many places still have not recovered. I wouldn't consider putting up a picture of Hitler on my wall or making a glorifying movie about him(more concerned about the Malick/Del Toro propaganda fest than The Motorcycle Diaries), but I guess that's just me.

  • Sept. 27, 2004, 3:31 p.m. CST

    Remember folks...

    by morGoth

    ...the only GOOD Commie is a DEAD Commie! Also, as the late, great Frank Zappa noted: The reason communism will never work is because one of the first words out of a baby's mouth is "mine!" Even if this was the greatest movie ever made, why would anyone be interested in this smelly bastards life unless you were a Klueless Kommie yerself? ** Here's one for nicole21: Isn't Mel Gibson included as an inhabitant of "lalawood?" Let me guess, he's a Catholic so that makes him "special" in your eye...right?

  • Sept. 27, 2004, 4:12 p.m. CST

    Who gives a fuck

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    what Che`s politics were not me,communism is a dead philosophy and all murdering bastards everywhere deserve to burn in whatever hell they believe in.....but you know what?? ive seen the Motercycle Diaries and fuck me its not about politics or religion or hate and death,it about friendship and life and how to get the most out of it.... at the end its just a bloody good film thats well worth watching

  • Sept. 27, 2004, 6:27 p.m. CST

    Great to be not American!

    by mtoast

    I can go to Cuba for a nice vacation and not have to listen to your blithering bullshit! Yay!

  • Sept. 27, 2004, 8:21 p.m. CST

    O yes, that's right mtoast...

    by morGoth

    ...because you can't get on the internet in Cuba. If you could, AICN would be blocked. That said, I think we should drop the stupid blockade and let good ol' capitalism do its heady job. Heh, when Herman Georing saw the first P-51 Mustang over Berlin, he knew that was it. I'm waiting for the first Havanna Mc Donalds to open {[:^)

  • Sept. 28, 2004, 12:45 a.m. CST


    by Senshine

    the trailer makes me salivate..

  • Sept. 28, 2004, 3:22 a.m. CST


    by theoneofblood

    That's got to be one of the funniest things I've read all week.

  • Sept. 28, 2004, 8 a.m. CST


    by Dead Megatron

    My friend, I missed ya!!! I agree with you on this: the best way to take down Castro is to lift the blocade. I don't even know why you keep it, since old Fidel is not a threat to you anymore, not by a long shot. Don't get me wrong, I thing the man is a jerk, but one thing we must recognize: Cuba was no better before communism: people were repressed by the authorities just the same, got muredered just the same, and lived in misery just the same. And now, as weird as it may be, Cuba has one of the best medic car of the world (way better than HMO). How fucked up is that, huh? go figure. Another thing I don't understand is this paranoid obsession with communism? You won the bloody Cold War, people! And it was 15 years ago. Only China remais (kinda) commie today, and it won't spread any further. let me say again: you won! Relax, will ya? (and a side note: on our last discussion, on the "Bush's Brain" talk-back, some guy named DocPazuzu said my Country - Brazil - is not even closely as ethnically diverse as USA. That made me wonder: how much exactly do you know about Brazil? There's nbo country as ethinically anc culturaly diverse as Brazil. Do you know that Sao Paulo is the largest japanese colony outside Japan? That we have a large german presence in the southern states, italian in Sao Paulo, and the largest black culture center of the Americas in Bahia? That we are not just native-descendents and caucasians? IN fact, the two most culturally diverse countries in the world are exactly the USA and Brazil, but we win for a small lead, since there''s more racial mixing in here (I won't deny there's racism, that would be hypocrit of my part). Go look it up, you might surprise yourself).

  • Sept. 28, 2004, 8:07 a.m. CST

    to LawrenceHugnut...

    by Dead Megatron

    Oh, yeah, I am SOOOOOO sad God didn't make me American. I mean, who would want to miss the chance to be part of such a neurotic people who's alienated the entire Planet Earth, and who got the most fraudulent electoral system of the Western hemisphere, except for Venezuela? And talking about Venezuela, how come a evil commie dictator like Chavez donates a millioon dollars to aid hurricane victims in Haiti, while your freedom-loving, god-fearing president only donates the offensive sum of (and this is serious) 50 thousand bucks????? I mean, talking about being cheap...

  • I should hope you would agree with this...

  • Sept. 28, 2004, 2:27 p.m. CST


    by WeedyMcSmokey

    I hardly think that going to this movie will make the communist machine that much more powerful. I've seen it and it really has little to do with any specific ideology. It is very good though. Seriously though, are you still fearing the Red menace? I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Is American might (and conversely 'right') that tenuous?

  • Sept. 28, 2004, 4:56 p.m. CST

    Greetings Dead Megatron

    by morGoth

  • Sept. 28, 2004, 4:58 p.m. CST


    by morGoth

    I forgot to mention that the crabs were actually tarantula's!

  • I'm certainly not advocating not seeing the picture because of some "Red Menace". My comments here have been limited to Che himself, and how it's sad that he's somehow become an iconic hero to a generation who has no idea that they're putting the picture of a mass murderer on their walls and on their tee-shirts. I intend to see this film, and the future Malick film as well - but perspective on Che is very much needed, and I have a feeling that the next film especially will be more of a "softening" picture than the hard, brutal reality of the man. That's what we're lamenting here - Che Guevera as popular icon of youth and leftist culture instead of Che Guevera as tormentor of the people, detriment to democracy, and villain of history that he actually is.

  • Sept. 29, 2004, 3:08 p.m. CST

    Now we're talking...

    by Dead Megatron

    I can take some criticism, as long as it is a sound, educated, criticism, and not some moron's bs...

  • Jan. 19, 2005, 8:11 a.m. CST

    Wow, this is odd

    by Stickman83

    what a bunch of idiots! lol this is kinda funny, actually. I ain't a commie, and I've always tended to the "right", but seriously, do you really absolutelly think that everything is a-ok right now? what a bunch of crap. if you can't see a movie just because it goes against your beliefs, you're really sad people. THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH OBSERVING OTHER POINTS OF VIEW! no one has the right to say they're "better" than someone else just based on their ideology, or religion, or race, or whatever you wanna discriminate about. watch this movie, if only to see a good coming of age story, and the beautiful south america. though i doubt you'd get it... the need for traveling isn't in you, is it? all you wanna do is stay inside and hate.