Thrill Ride

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he best road-trip film since Y Tu Mamá También also stars the stunning Gael García Bernal — this time, as a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara, circa 1952, a rebel before his cause. Bernal straps himself onto a popping, jumping Norton 500 motorcycle he dubs “The Mighty Onem” and makes his way around South America.
    Unlike Y Tu Mamá También, Motorcycle Diaries doesn’t have a second hot model to distract us as we watch Bernal roam. This time “the thin one” is paired with “the fat one.” Guevara’s companion Alberto Granado, a lifelong comrade of Che’s, is brought to life drinking and swooning by the hysterical Rodrigo de la Serna, in a sweetheart role so charming it makes Frodo’s pal Sam Gangee seem like a selfish bore.
     As the two back-slapping med students sputter along their eight-thousand-mile, eight-month journey, Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles (Central Station) develops an easy rhythm, matching his duo’s wide-eyed astonishment at rivers and mountains with their horror of poverty. The film ricochets through remote mountains and brutal mines, earnest hospital internships and small-time con-jobs. As the film moves on, it slows; the Kodak snapshots fade to documentary photographs, and Guevara — a model student at a hospital internship, a wallflower at raucous dance parties — begins to brood, developing something like a social conscience.
     Some critics have attacked Salles’ film for oversimplifying a man already romanticized by mid-century literature and T-shirts. But this unabashedly romantic film works because of its framing. In the final scenes, Guevara isn’t necessarily going to become a revolutionary. When Bernal delivers his first, halting political speech, his delivery is so tentative and quiet that you might think this sweet young kid is on his way to a healthy career as a doctor or bookworm, a social worker rather than a socialist hero.
     Salles remembers that the best part of being idealistic and on the road is hitting the gas without knowing where you’re going. — Logan Hill  

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