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Ever wonder why Che was called Che? Do you even know who Che Guevara was besides that guy on all the dorm-room posters? He was, of course, iconic when I was hanging around in dorm rooms. But I'm pretty sure his Q-score has faded a bit. Anyway, the new film, The Motorcycle Diaries, tells the story of Che Guevara (Gael García Bernal) as a young man. The action of the movie takes place several years before Che joined Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba. It is based on a journal he kept as he traveled around South America by motorcycle with his friend Alberto Granados (Rodrigo De la Serna). The two young men set off to see the world and pick up chicks. You wonder after several spills off the motorcycle that they survived at all. Their progress through Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Columbia is slow (the motorcycle is in the repair shop a lot), and Che and Alberto have a chance to see how the average person is living in South America in the 1950's. At this time, South American countries were ruled by dictators; the poor are working hard and barely getting by. Needless to say, this causes a political awakening in the two young men.
The Motorcycle Diaries, which is in Spanish with subtitles, is a really nice little film. It is made very simply, almost like a documentary. The scenery along the way is spectacular and sets off the awful conditions that the people are living in. The Motorcycle Diaries is directed by the veteran Brazilian director, Walter Salles. The two main actors, Bernal and De la Serna are great. Bernal got a lot of exposure as one of the two young guys on a road trip of a different kind in Y Tu Mama Tambien. De la Serna is new to me, but he and Bernal have a nice chemistry as the two friends who have to go through a lot together. Bernal, in particular, has an intensity that makes Che very real and you can easily believe that he went on to become a revolutionary. The real Granados is still alive and living in Cuba. We see him on film at the end of The Motorcycle Diaries. Another nice touch is the showing of actual snapshots from the trip during the end credits that show that some of the more unbelievable incidents in The Motorcycle Diaries really happened. This movie is very timely too. After Cuba, Che went on to foment rebellion elsewhere in South America and was shot to death in Bolivia in 1967. Today, Che would surely be labeled a terrorist and linked to Al Qaeda.