The Motorcycle Diaries
Running Time: 124 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Spanish and French – Dolby Digital 5.1
February 15th, 2005
In 1952, Ernesto “El Fuser” Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), a then 23-year-old medical student on the verge of graduation and his pal Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), a biochemist, made the bold decision to put aside their careers, say a temporary farewell to their loved ones, and set out on an ambitiously planned 4-month road trip that they hoped would help them better understand both humankind and Latin America. They started in Argentina on Alberto’s 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle, affectionately nicknamed “The Mighty One” – although it is usually a step away from falling apart – for a trip through their neighboring countries of Peru, Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia, with the ultimate goal of reaching a leper colony in the Amazon.
Over the course of their 8,000-kilometer odyssey, these two very different friends discover many things about themselves, and about the peoples Latin America. These discoveries are made through their experiencing a variety of different situations on their journey, ranging from the tragic to the hopeful, and through encountering people from all walks of life, from lepers and prostitutes to the wealthy and privileged. Ultimately, these experiences cause the two young men to develop a determination to change their society for the better.
Interestingly, Guevara and Granado, did not necessarily expect to be so changed by their adventure. In fact, the beginnings of their journey are characterized by their effort to have as much fun chasing women as possible! As they travel further from Buenos Aires, however, they get a firsthand look at some of the more negative aspects and social ills of the capitalist way of life, such as extreme poverty and the growing separation between the haves and have-nots. As they press onward, the youthful exuberance with which their trip began is eventually replaced by a strong desire to understand the human condition and how they might be able to better it.
On the whole, The Motorcycle Diaries is a wonderful film, filled with some touching, human moments and a wealth of insight into the divergent peoples of South America. One of its few flaws is the near-glamorization of Guevara, who would later play a key role in the Cuban Revolution, but Salles never loses sight of the film’s main theme, which is how both Ernesto and Alberto grow to value the importance of human beings in general as their journey progresses.
Obviously, there have been a great many “buddy/road” films that have preceded The Motorcycle Diaries, but there are no clichés here. As I alluded to above, the reason is that director Walter Salles’ depiction of the road trip taken by future revolutionary Che Guevara is thoughtful, heartfelt, and intelligent. In my opinion, I think Mr. Salles worked the characters into my good graces skillfully, beginning with their initial misadventures as they initially mingle with the local peoples, carouse with the ladies, and try desperately to keep their rickety motorcycle running. He handles the transition between these misadventures and their spiritual awakening in a similarly skillful fashion, as the duo comes upon increasingly desperate and poverty-stricken persons on their journey towards the leper colony.
Now as good as Salles’ direction is, the heart-and-soul of The Motorcycle Diaries is Gael García Bernal. He is absolutely terrific as the pre-revolutionary Ernesto Guevara, and his performance is not only full of charisma and energy, but he manages to realistically portray both the young Guevara’s sense of wonder and how he struggled to understand the reasons for the poor conditions many of his fellow South Americans lived in.
As Guevara’s companion, Alberto Granado, Rodrigo de la Serna is almost as amazing! The slightly senior, and more worldly Granado is exuberantly portrayed by Mr. De la Serna, who also gets the chance to deliver most of the film’s funniest lines. More importantly, Rodrigo is charming as the brash and hedonistic Granado, and his chemistry with Gael García Bernal also seems genuine, which is important since the film really could not have worked without such a believable bond between these two quite disparate fellows.
Visually, The Motorcycle Diaries is a marvel as well, filled with incredibly beautiful South American locations that were part of the actual journey taken by Guevara and Granado. Cinematographer Eric Gautier really earned his keep on this project, beautifully photographing both the ordinary (mountain roads and lakes) and the more exotic spots, including the ruins of Maccchu Picchu in Peru.
While I am on the subject of the film’s technical aspects, it would be criminal of me not to commend composer Gustavo Santaolalla, whose score for The Motorcycle Diaries is either subtle and restrained or extremely musical in all of the right places. Santaolalla’s haunting, guitar-laden score adds plenty of texture to this film, and also gives rise to emotions within the viewer whenever it is appropriate. In short, it really serves the film well!
For all of the aforementioned reasons, not only is Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries a loving tribute to South America, but it is also a thoughtful, important, profoundly satisfying journey through two men’s coming of age. There are politics involved to be sure, but seen in that light, The Motorcycle Diaries is one of the more interesting and entertaining motion pictures released in 2004, and a worthwhile viewing experience!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
While Universal’s anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) presentation of The Motorcycle Diaries is not perfect, I was more than pleased with how the film looked on my system! On the plus side, colors, including flesh tones, are accurately drawn, and though a few scenes exhibit a “soft” appearance, there is more than enough detail to relish the varied and interesting South American landscapes that appear in the film!
Blacks could have been better in certain instances, particularly in dimly lit interiors, where shadow detail is obscured a bit, but shadow delineation is fine overall. While the image is relatively clean, it also contains a bit of noise, some specks and spots, and a nominal amount of film grain (it is a film after all). Personally, I think that while the grain in the image is more evident than in most films, it gives even more character to this particular film.
Overall, the long and arduous journey of Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado looks good enough on DVD that fans of the film should be quite pleased!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
There is no English audio track, but as Gael García Bernal mentions in the supplemental materials, this film needed to be done in Spanish. At any rate, what Universal has done is included both Spanish and French 5.1 channel tracks (of the Dolby Digital variety) for The Motorcycle Diaries, with the Spanish track that I chose also having forced English subtitles. Closed captioning in English is an additional option.
To begin with, dialogue comes through nicely, always easily discernable and without any hissing or sibilance. Fidelity is also good, which allowed Gustavo Santaolalla’s beautiful score to sow its stuff!
The surrounds are fairly inactive, used mainly for the generation of ambience, most often in cases where our two heroes are traversing the diverse landscapes of South America. Fortunately, such ambient sound is rendered well, which made me more involved in the film. Similarly, there is nothing in the way of room-shaking bass, but the low rumble of “The Mighty One” is reinforced nicely by the sub.
On the whole, it is not the most dynamic or aggressive mix I have ever heard, but it certainly serves the material well and compliments the image transfer nicely!
There are almost 8 ½ minutes of deleted scenes included, which feature scenes of a race, Ernesto getting “robbed”, the fellas riding on a dangerous mountain road in a rickety truck, and Ernesto having a discussion with a group of older people.
The Making of The Motorcycle Diaries
This 22-minute “making of” offers an in-depth look at the cast and crew’s experiences in working on The Motorcycle Diaries, and about the inspiration for the film. In particular, we hear from Robert Redford (Executive Producer) and Walter Salles (director) about the journey that Granado and Guevara undertook, and some of the things they did to get by on the road.
Subsequently, Aleida Guevara talks about her father a little bit and why she gave her blessing to the film, and actors Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna discuss their characters, the importance of participating in the film, and the many hours of rehearsal required to ride “The Mighty One”. The featurette then winds to a close by focusing on the contributions of Walter Salles, as it pertains to bringing this incredible journey to the screen.
A Moment With Alberto Granado / Photo Sequence
This short (3:20) piece with the real Alberto Granado offers a retrospective look at the amazing odyssey that he shared with his friend Ernesto over five decades ago! His comments are followed by a series of still photographs, which play over music.
A Moment With Gael García Bernal
This is a roughly 3-minute Telemundo interview with Gael García Bernal the star of such films as Y Tu Mama Tambien and Amores Perros, who discusses his early introduction to acting and his approach to his craft. The interview is in Spanish, but is subtitled.
Tomo Uno with Gael García Bernal
This extra is a 2-minute Mun2 interview with the star of The Motorcycle Diaries, who again talks about his early thoughts about acting, and about the necessity of recording the film in Spanish.
Music of the Road
In this 3-minute interview with Latin Grammy Award®-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla, the role that music played in the film is revealed, as is Mr. Santaolalla’s inspiration for the pieces he composed. As it turns out, the composer began work on the music for the film in a most unconventional way!
Cast & Filmmakers
Brief biographies / filmographies are provided for:
--- Gael García Bernal (as Ernesto Guevara de la Serna)
--- Rodrigo de la Serna (as Alberto Granado)
--- Mia Maestro (as Chichina Ferreyra)
--- Walter Salles (Director)
--- José Rivera (Screenplay)
--- Michael Nozik (Producer)
--- Edgard Tenenbaum (Producer)
--- Karen Tenkhoff (Producer)
--- Robert Redford (Executive Producer)
--- Paul Webster (Executive Producer)
--- Rebecca Yeldham (Executive Producer)
The disc kicks off with a Focus Features promo, and trailers for: Ray, Seed of Chucky, Vanity Fair, and Shaun of the Dead.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Director Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries is several things: a portrait of a controversial historical figure’s life before he became a revolutionary, a love letter to South America, a “buddy” movie about two friends setting out in search of adventure, and a study of how life experiences change people.
It is undoubted that some people will be put of by this film simply because one of its principal characters is Ernesto “El Che” Guevara de la Serna, but I never found Walter Salles to be trying to force the left-wing politics that Guevara would be later known for down my throat. Moreover, because this film contains so many different elements, I think it warrants consideration nonetheless.
As for its presentation on DVD, the film looks and sounds quite good, and there are more extras than I would have expected for this particular title. The majority of the value added materials are fairly brief, but what is included is of interest. Coupled withthe image and sound quality, it is a relatively attractive offering for one of the better films released last year, and especially for a “foreign” film!