A Revolutionary Motorcycle

         In 1952, Ernesto “Che” Guevara (played by Gael García Bernal) set out on an adventure to explore Latin America on an old, beat up Norton motorcycle. Guevara’s companion on the trip is Alberto Granado, played with gusto by the Argentinean actor Rodrigo de la Serna. To share screen time with the talented and photogenic Bernal is a challenge for any actor, particularly when the character he plays is not exactly physically prepossessing—in real life, Granado was a chubby, dumpy little man whose legs barely touched the ground on either side of the motorcycle. But Granado had a big personality; and it is on this that de la Serna capitalizes, giving a charismatic bear hug of a performance.

         The director, Walter Salles, does a good job of negotiating the potential pitfalls of the subject matter. It is a little episodic—road movies usually are—but the film successfully builds to an emotional climax. And, while we do get a sense of Guevara’s political awakening, Salles manages to avoid hammering home the spiritual growth of his hero. There are still some lump-in-the-throat moments; however, not least the shot at the end of the real Granado, now in his eighties, looking to the horizon in a wordless tribute to the memory of his old friend.

         Che Guevera is sadly best known today as a mysterious icon for a pop culture ironic t-shirt sported by the supposedly hip and political. Few really knew much more about the firebrand revolutionist, who was a comrade in Cuban arms with Fidel Castro in a crusade that led to his eventual capture and execution by the CIA as a notorious fly-in-the-ointment career criminal.

         After several humorous encounters along the fray, the duo finally have to give up their trusty vehicle after many hardships and torrential weather obstacles to go on foot then finally on ferry to their destination: an internship with a leper colony. Along the way the duo meet many disenfranchised and impoverished fellow countrymen and their women and families. With each soul-crushing pit stop one can feel the stirrings of ire catching fire within the young man who will become Che Guevera.

Derek Owen

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