"Let the world change you...and you can change the world." A heartfelt quote used in the marketing of this wonderful film directed by Walter Salles. I easily connected with this film because of my youthful years that took me on a journey through most of the West Coast of the United States, and an entire year through the state of Alaska. I may have not gone out afterwards to change the world as Ernesto "Che" Guevara did, but I can relate to the fact that the world around me changed me. It's truly amazing that we can sit around the confines of our own simple lives and assume everything around us is the same no matter where we go. Nothing could be further form the truth. Thanks to the wonderful tale from Ernesto and his friend Alberto Granado, they prove that the world around all of us is different from one culture to the next, no matter if it's only a few hundred miles from our back door.
"The Motorcycle Diaries" is a film about the written accounts of Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Gael García Bernal) and his journey with a very close friend, Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna). Both men embark on an adventure in the early 1950's that take them from South Argentina to Columbia. On their adventure, they journey through the countries of Peru and Chili on a very unstable, oil-leaking motorcycle. In fact, the bike only makes it through half the film and the rest is on foot. What's important in this film is pure character development and how the various cultures of South America affect the two youthful men. The motorcycle itself plays very little in the subject matter, but it is funny watching them crash the bike several times. In fact, and according to Ernesto's diary, they actually wiped out an astonishing five hundred times. Amazing how this must have been, since neither of them was wearing a helmet; however, that is not to say they didn't get a few bruises and scratches along the way.
As I mentioned, character development is the main key to this film's success and it was simply some of the best characterization I've seen in years. As we watch one character, Ernesto as a young man with only one more year of school before he becomes a full-blown doctor, allow the world around him to change his personality, we also see his friend Alberto change very little in his easygoing mannerisms. Alberto plays more the clown of the two and enjoys the art of bribery and stealing whenever necessary. Ernesto, playing along with Alberto's ways, tends to become more affected by the cultures of the world he travels through. Ernesto begins to see the true greed of the world around him. He is affected in a slow, subtle way that begins to change his entire outlook on his fellow people of South America. Ernesto would eventually be taken on a remarkable journey that is not shown in this film; however, his accomplishments are duly noted in the closing credits.
The other part of this film that stood out for me was the beautiful cinematography. Many of the scenes were astonishing. After watching the Academy Awards, I was simply dumbfounded that "The Motorcycle Diaries" was not up for cinematography when I felt it deserved it more than any film I've seen this year. The many shots of the hills of Chile and the ruins of Peru were breathtaking to say the least. The camera work was wonderful in every sense of the word, and I can only hope I was not the only one to notice this.
As a fair warning to the general North American audience who enjoy the commercialized, overproduced films of Hollywood, I should warn you that this film is a remarkable, independent foreign film. And yes, the entire movie is in Spanish and subtitled in English. Even I found the subtitles a little fast and hard to catch, but if you really just watch the emotions play through the film, you will hardly notice the need for the subtitles at all. The film has an unusual way of playing through human emotions that you could almost understand without any dialogue whatsoever. Nevertheless, and luckily for me, I understand some Spanish and was able to catch certain words and phrases with ease. However, the language barrier is no reason that this film should be martyred by the general audience of native English speakers. It is simply a wonderful film that has a heart all its own.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and, as I mentioned, is in Spanish with English subtitles. I found the audio to work very well in its presentation and to be very well balanced. It had good tone through the bass, treble and midrange. The dynamics were fair, but that is not to say that I have not heard better. Overall, the quality was more than acceptable.
The video is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The overall quality of the video is also remarkable throughout most of the film. There are a few moments in certain scenes where the color appeared slightly washed out, but there are also scenes where the color is astonishing enough to give this film a very high rating. Regardless of the few blemishes, and for an independent film, the video quality is simply top-notch.
This is a single disc version of the film and comes equipped with two menus for English and Spanish. Don't even try to see if there's a dubbed English version of the film in the audio menu because there is none. Not to mention, some of the extras on this DVD are also in Spanish and some are in English. There are the usual deleted scenes and cast and filmmaker credits on the extras' menu.
In the supplementary material, we get an interview with the actual character, Alberto Granado, as he talks about his journeys with his good friend Ernesto. It's truly wonderful to see that Alberto is still alive and kicking after the story taking place so many years ago. He lives in Cuba and has a wife and kids of his own. I was simply delighted to see that he was such a warm and charming individual, and my best wishes go out to him and his family.
Another feature was on the making of the film, and this one is all in English. We get several small interviews with the actors and filmmakers. We also get plenty of insight from the film's executive producer, Robert Redford, of all people. This is a fun little feature, but as with most features like this, seeing it once is about all it's worth. There are also a couple features with the Latin superstar actor Gael Garcia Bernal. These two features are in Spanish with English subtitles but are enjoyable enough to watch at least once. For some people, you may remember Bernal in the heartwarming film, "Y tu mamá también," one of my favorite Spanish films from a couple of years ago. Bernal is a talented individual who comes from parents that were filmmakers themselves. I found him to be a smart and delightful person, and I hope the best for him in films to come.
The last feature is an interview with the film's music composer, Gustavo Santaolalla. And yes, his short name in America would be Guss, just as my short name is Tim. Of course, if I were in the Mafia I would most likely be called Timmy; however, Guss would still be called Guss in the Mob world. Nevertheless, if you have seen the Academy Awards this year, then you'd already know that this film received the award for best song. It's a great honor for the song, but I felt this film deserved a little more attention from the Academy than just best song. Oh, well.
Looking back at Ernesto and Alberto's journey, I couldn't help but reflect on my own life experiences. It is truly astonishing how we perceive the world to be full of people who think the same as we do when it is often the opposite. Even in my own journeys through the West Coast and Alaska, it is amazing how our cultures have many subtle differences in such a short distance. It is my own journeys in life that helped me connect with this film in a way that is difficult to explain; that is, unless you have had the same experiences I have. Seeing the world around you does help you become a better-rounded person and understand the feelings and emotions through the vast cultures we have in America. Even though we all have similar wants and needs, it is our subtle cultural differences that make us all beautiful as humans. "The Motorcycle Diaries" is simply a film that personifies that fact, and it is a film that I recommend to the young and old at heart.