Magazine article The Christian Century

Travels with Che

Magazine article The Christian Century

Travels with Che

Article excerpt

ROAD MOVIES provide screenwriters with a built-in structure. It allows them, in the immortal words of the Queen of Hearts, to "begin at the beginning, go on until you reach the end, and then stop!" But what happens when an ending isn't really the end? Or when the "real" end sends us down a different road altogether?

The Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Brazilian Walter Salles (Central Station), re-creates an actual 1952 journey through South America made by two Argentineans--Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), a 29-year-old biochemist, and Ernesto Guevara (Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal), a 23-year-old medical student. The reason we care about this road trip 50 years later is that Ernesto became the revolutionary "Che" Guevara, who remains a poster boy for guerrilla movements worldwide. (When I was in college the famous Alberto Korda photo of Che was as popular in dorm rooms as posters of Steve McQueen and Jean-Paul Belmondo.)

The film, scripted by Puerto Rican playwright Jose Rivera, is based on a pair of books written by the young adventurers about their five-month, 5,000-mile journey. Alberto's book, Traveling with Che Guevara, is the more factual. Ernesto's The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey was pieced together from notes that were found after his death.

The journey takes the pair from Buenos Aires, where Ernesto's rich and attractive girlfriend lives, through Argentina and into Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. The two, who are polar opposites in temperament--Alberto is outgoing and robust, Ernesto shy and asthmatic--meet miners and thugs, bar maids and hookers, doctors and lawyers, lonely wives and jealous husbands. Their eyes are opened to the poor, the corrupt and the uneducated, as well as to the magnificent beauty of the landscape (a landscape made even more stirring by the stunning photography of French cinematographer Eric Gautier and the seductive guitar music of Gustavo Santaolalla). …

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