Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Filmy weekend

Watched a lot of movies over the weekend - Happy Feet, Star Wars Episode II, How the Grinch stole Christmas, etc. But the one thing that hit me was The Motorcycle Diaries.

Based on the road trip undertaken by Ernesto "Che" Guevara and his friend Alberto Granada across the South American continent, the movie is one of the best I've seen recently.

In 1952, Ernesto "Fuser" Guevara and his friend Alberto, start from Buenos Aires on a rusty old motorcycle (The Mighty One, which is anything but) to spend time working at a leper colony in the Peruvian Amazon, and reach Venezuela in time for Alberto's 30th birthday. They miss that deadline but the trip takes them across the Andes, Chile, the Atacama Desert and into the Amazon. Short of cash and often hungry, the friends devise ingenious methods to stay afloat, including getting a paper to publish an article on their ambitious trip.

It is not all fun and games, however, as Ernesto begins to emerge from the safe, warm cocoon that was his life in Buenos Aires. The human suffering he sees, across various parts of South America slowly seeps into him, sowing the seeds for the revolutionary that he would become later in life. By the time Ernesto and Alberto reach Venezuela, you can actually see how much the young man has changed.

Walter Salles, the director, has done a wonderful job in this film. This could have easily descended into a leftist, political movie, but Salles gives us a deeply personal account of what amounted to a life changing event in Che's life. The mining couple (Ernesto gives them the precious American dollars that his girlfriend gave him to buy her a bathing suit), the Native Indian woman who remembers a better life, the visit to Machu Picchu, the leper colony separated from the healthy by the mighty Amazon - one can understand that effect it must have had on a sensitive and intelligent 23 year old. (How I wish I had been that 23-year old!). Some might argue that Che has been idealized in this movie, but then Hollywood has idealized men far less worthy and Che's communist leanings don't change the fact that he was a great revolutionary.

This is my first Gael Garcia Bernal movie and the guy is just amazing! I finally understand why people rave about him so. Bernal is the actor who seems like a average looking guy in a few pictures and in some makes you wonder why he is so lusted after. But once he is on screen you understand why - he transforms into something else, he has amazing screen presence and is so endearing as the shy, sensitive young man who doesn't know the Mambo from the Tango. Must see more of this guy's movies!

Verdict: Apocalypse Now and American Beauty left indelible impressions on me. I was in my teens when I watched the first and 21 when I watched the second, more impressionable ages to be sure. But The Motorcycle Diaries made me sad - sad for having to grow up, for being caught up in everyday life, for not believing in pretty much anything. Che was a lucky guy. Loved the movie, a must see for anyone who has ever itched to get away from it all. A fitting description of my reaction to the movie would be Jack Kerouac's words from On the Road:

I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"

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