Directed by Walter Salles, starring Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo De La Serna, Mía Maestro, Mercedes Morán and Jorge Chiarella.
It's a near irresistible mixture, this combination of the political awakening of legendary 20th Century revolutionary Che Guevara, helmed by award-winning Brazilian director Walter Salles and starring up-and-coming Mexican actor Gael García Bernal. In fact, Bernal's star is so much in the ascendant, viewers may go to 'The Motorcycle Diaries' because of his presence alone. But what they'll find is a far distance from his role as a horny teenager in 'Y Tu Mamá También' or, more recently, as the multi-faceted Ángel/Juan/Zahara in 'Bad Education'. Bernal's portrayal of the young Ernesto 'Che' Guevara in 1952 is delicately nuanced. But, such is the actor's charisma, he manages to make the introspective Ernesto, in the time before he turned into Che the Revolutionary, into more than just the face that launched a thousand t-shirts.
Idealistic medical students Ernesto, who is 23, and friend Alberto (De La Serna) set off on an ambitious trip from their native Argentina through Chile, Peru and Colombia, planning to celebrate Alberto's 30th birthday in Venezuela. With all their belongings perched precariously on Alberto's elderly motorbike - nicknamed 'La Poderosa', 'The Mighty One', more in hope than accuracy - the duo travel the continent.
Their journey takes them far from their middle-class roots, especially when 'La Poderosa' falls foul of a herd of cows and they are forced to continue on foot. As they move from encounters with migrant workers, a couple displaced for their political beliefs and spend time working at the San Pablo leper colony, the two men discover that they are not just Argentineans but Latin Americans.
It becomes a life-changing journey for them both. Ernesto went on to become a revolutionary leader while Alberto, still alive and living in Havana, founded the Santiago School of Medicine there after the Cuban revolution but this is not reflected in the laid-back, at times near-soporific, nature of 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. Naturally episodic - director Walter Salles uses Ernesto's journals and letters as narrative aids - there's little drama as Ernesto's growing disenchantment with the injustices of Latin America is largely internalised. While the film takes its time to unfold, there's plenty to feast the eyes on - spectacular South America scenery courtesy of cinematographer Eric Gautier and, not least, Bernal himself.
Although the middle section of 'The Motorcycle Diaries' is more National Geographic travelogue than biopic, Salles' trump card is saved for the end when footage of the real Alberto and images of his trip with the real Ernesto jolt viewers afresh with the fact that this idealistic young man turned into Che Guevara. In its calm before the revolutionary storm, 'The Motorcycle Diaries' successfully makes the poster boy of disaffected youth into a real man.