A friend of mine who has little interest in politics or history read the famous biography "Che", about the legendary revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, for her book club. We talked about it for a spell, but it was years since I read it. She then pondered why he was such a beloved figure amongst many as the book paints him as a sadistic tyrant.
I didn't have a good answer for her. I admit that I love the myth of Che if not the reality. Since his martyrdom many have seen him as an inspiring figure in the struggle against imperial colonialism. While he claimed to fight for social justice upon closer examination of the facts one may found a man who cared little for basic human and civil rights, not the iconic revolutionary who many think should be the model for our collective conscious. Yes I do find it ironic that his legacy is largely lived through sweat shop produced tshirts and posters that are sold in Hot Topic and the like. Hardly the want of someone so against capitalism, but maybe he was that narcissistic.
I'm sure there are many like me who want to admire the bullet point history of Guevara and that's the only explanation I can think of when I see positive reviews for "The Motorcycle Diaries". I watched this yesterday wondering if it would give me further insight behind the man that helped shaped Cuba's future, but I was largely left to question why it, like it's main character, was so well regarded.
It's a simple road tale of Ernesto Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado who set to travel South America from Argentina to Peru on a motorcycle. They're friends because we're told they are, but we never feel that they should be. There's no real chemistry between the two and there's little dialogue that would suggest they even enjoy each other's company. They seem to share the same political philosophy, but even that is glossed over. It becomes little more than a travelogue, a poor one at that.
Across the landscape they meet important figures in shaping their beliefs and witness first hand the oppression at the hands of capitalists and religious figures, but again these moments are few and almost work in a montage sequence when the camera's not focused on the landscape. The poor are shot almost in still life fashion in black and white, mean to represent how they are a memory, a somewhat fleeting one as they are the victims of powerful landlords, corporations, etc.
It's an interesting concept, but it made for a poor film that does little more than make one wonder why Che became such a brutal thug. Perhaps if the downtrodden in this film were given more character we could imagine him becoming the extremist he was in his later years, but the viewer is left to ponder that for themselves.
This film failed me in two respects, one as a buddy road film and the other as a social commentary. What turned Che into the absolutist who even lobbied for Kruschev to launch at the US is still a mystery to those who view it. It's a long and often time tedious look into the world that begged to be saved from it's masters.
That's not to say the film is completely without merit. The visuals are lush and beautiful, the acting is much better than it's dialogue, and maybe if I spoke Spanish I'd understand the fish out of water aspect of the travels of it's protagonists. When the end came gave Che credit for creating the revolution against the Batistas I felt I wanted more.
"For a movie, this feels inadequate, despite its splendors and, later, its social dismay. It does, however, have the makings of a grand postcard." - Wesley Morris