DVD Review of The
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/23/05
Imagine a film purporting to depict the youth of Adolf Hitler that never dealt with an instance of his Anti-Semitism and you will about have what The Motorcycle Diaries represents for Latin American Communism. The film, based upon the book of the same name, culled from the diaries of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (Gael García Bernal), the mass murdering top henchman of Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution, attempts to portray the monster as an all-caring near-Christ-like figure. Now, I am not one who’s a PC stickler when it comes to art and truth, but the fact is this film is a) bad history, and b) even worse art. While not quite as bad a film as Monster, for its better visuals than that feminist ode to girl power via serial murder, the earlier film at least acknowledged that its subject was a mass murderer, even as it excused it. By contrast, The Motorcycle Diaries not only glosses over Che’s massive crimes against humanity, but gives absolutely no hint that such evil ever resided in the man. He was Latin America’s Osama bin Laden before there was an Osama bin Laden. Yet, to the recrudescent Hollywood PC Elitists he is a hero, simply because he opposed America. That, alone, to them, erases all of the blood on his hands, even though he was enamored of the Soviet Union’s genocidal methods. Yet, George W. Bush, a man I certainly do not admire, is utterly reviled for his crimes against humanity, even though his ‘cause’ is arguably only just as ignoble and ineffective as Che’s ultimately was.
The film, which was lauded at the Sundance Film Festival, and widely touted by executive producer and political naïf, Robert Redford, follows spoiled rich kid Che’s months-long trek, at age 23, across South America with an older pal named Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna), 29. The film, while filled with beautiful vistas of the countryside, is not particularly well shot by director Walter Salles nor cinematographer Eric Gautier, as there is none of the lingering sumptuousness that one finds in Lawrence Of Arabia, nor Kundun, films made by filmic masters like David Lean and Martin Scorsese. Instead, we get filmic postcards, not engaging realities. The framing of the shots sometimes seems as if it were done by a tourist who was in a hurry to get through whatever area he was traveling through. It also plumbs virtually every cliché of the two genres it inhabits- the buddy film and the coming of age road film. On the buddy side you have handsome, serious, empathetic Che, who-like George Washington, cannot tell a lie- he rips a doctor’s poorly worded novel after his pal praises I- telling the old man to stick to medicine (would that someone had told Che the same thing!), and the chubby, fast-talking sidekick, Alberto, on a continual poon hunt. They get in to wacky adventures, constantly crash their motorcycle, and escape disaster by the skins of their teeth. On the road picture side, Che falls in love with a beautiful girl, but breaks her heart, the two meet strange people and grow up, chase girls, and idyllic vistas inspire the duo to talk like a bad screenwriter’s imagination of what depth is, especially when at Maachu Picchu. If this insipidity is what Screenwriter’s 101 feels reconstructed conversations should be, well….yeesh. In short, this is one foreign film whose subtitles do not matter vis-à-vis dubbing because they are bad either way.
There are the requisite ‘deep’ moments designed to show how spoiled Che ‘grew to love’ the peasants he would one day murder by the thousands. The duo are then in the Chilean desert, and meet a migrant worker couple. Che empathizes, despite them showing no human qualities- they are cardboard cutouts, stereotypes. This may be because they are a composite of people he met, but a little less of the not so funny attempted humor scenes, and some more of real deep conversations to show us how this couple’s plight was significant, and the film would have worked better as art, if not history. Instead, all we get are Che’s incredibly banal and shallow words: ‘Their faces were tragic and haunting,’ rather than seeing the tragedy and hauntingness. Later, Che tosses a rock at the work truck of a foreman who hires peasants at the side of the road. Then he grimaces and furrows his brow (the movie’s way of letting you know this scene is important to Che’s growth). He meets an Indian in the Andes and grimaces against landowners. More injustices cause him to grimace against the Conquistadores and bourgeoisie. Then, he and Alberto arrive at a leper colony where the lepers live on one side of a river from the doctors and nurses. Discrimination, Che furrows his brow. He refuses to wear gloves when he’s with the lepers. Nuns refuse him breakfast because he did not go to mass- the brow furrows. In a matter of days, he is beloved by all. Then, he must go, and at the last night’s party in honor of him and his birthday, he decides he must spend the final night with the lepers, and swims the river at night. Alberto grimaces, and I almost expected a Speedy Gonzales-like ‘Andalay!’ Alberto warns that no one has ever swum the river, yet Che, with asthma, braves it at night, along with the crocodiles and piranhas, and the staff on one side of the river, and the lepers on the other, cheer wildly, as the God-like Che makes it, with all the subtlety of a sports movie’s predictable end. It is over the top, first with the almost surely mythically untrue nocturnal swim across the Amazon, and then with the black and white ‘moving’ photos of the downtrodden, which is almost vomit-inducing in its saccharinity- as Che’s epiphany is told, but never shown nor felt by the viewer.
Yes, it really gets that bad, folks. Then, Che and Alberto part, and fade to black, and a shot of the real Alberto watching a plane take off. The last words on the screen tell us Che was a hero of the Cuban revolution, then took off to help other oppressed peoples in Latin America before being brutally murdered by the CIA-directed Bolivian Army. In all that, however, it neglects to tell the viewer of Che’s own death squads that rounded up and shot peasants in town after town in Cuba, with no trial nor jury. It doesn’t state how he tried to export his mayhem to Bolivia, and other nations, but was so unpopular, due to his death squads killing of innocent Bolivians, as well, that locals tipped off his whereabouts to the Bolivian Army, who meted out ultimate justice. He was no hero to any but fans of mass murder and terrorism. Instead, he was a criminal, every bit as reprehensible as Hitler, Aileen Wuornos, or Ted Bundy. The Hollywood PC Elitists, however, seem to be congenitally unable to recognize that Communism was, next to Christianity and Capitalism- is there something about Capital C’s?, the most misery-inducing philosophy in the human race’s history
Where is the glimmer of that monster within? We get the crucified Che, but not the evil killer. Is killing in the name of a ‘good’ cause ever good, especially when the victims are innocents? The film never even attempts to address such an idea. All Che ever did was give lip service to progressive ideals, but his fascistic deeds were far more relevant. Even accepting that he may have once been an idealistic young doctor wannabe, the film should have at least mentioned his crimes at the end, as well the fact that the Cult Of Che is virtually dead in modern Latin America, and only thrives in the effete upper classes of the liberal guilty West’s intellectuals. Yet, even worse than that is the film. Bernal is pretty boy eye candy, who in this film and Y Tu Mama Tambien, another piece of Leftist political tripe, has shown almost no acting range, outside of doe-y eyes on the verge of tears, either from an ecstatic swordfight with his male lover in the earlier film, or a desire to embrace lepers in this one. Ironically enough, it was Che who set up Cuba’s concentration camps to eliminate people who were diseased, thus violating his Hippocratic Oath once again. The far more intriguing character and actor is Alberto, played by Serna. He, at least, stuck to his principles, and founded a hospital, and the actor actually shows humanity, unlike the deified Che, and mannekin Bernal, who wrought far more misery in his life than he ever alleviated. He is rightly recognized as one of history’s great failures and frauds, as well as mass murderers.
Yet, this contradiction is perfect fodder for a film. This is what art is around for- to explore how such a thing happens, yet the film never dares it. It is cowardly and puerile. Che was a totalitarian, not an idealist. His writings bear this out, littered with apothegms such as, ‘Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become.’ And, please, it is not a part of my politics to condemn the film. I am beyond that- it is bad art, pure and simple. Look at the Nazi agitprop of a Leni Riefenstahl if you want to see artistic lies done well. This is a poorly written, third-rate buddy and coming of age road film, and pure simpering hagiography.
The features on the DVD are little better. We get the real Alberto wandering aimlessly, going on and on about Che. We get the usually dull featurette in which Bernal gushes about playing the heroic Che, and a few glitzy specials direct from Telemundo, none of which have any insight. Despite being made by a Brazilian filmmaker, this film is thoroughly Hollywood, and bound to polarize. Simpleminded Leftists have and will praise it to the hilt, despite its manifest flaws, all because they will not bother to check out the facts. Rightists will damn the film, sight unseen, thereby missing the chance to rip its poor artistry and only justify the many delusions of their enemies, by showing them they are correct that Rightists cannot separate art from reality, either. And so it goes….but, at least, I recognize such things. If the film did so I would not have to state it.
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