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Myth in the Making

One of my favourite films out of Latin American is Walter Salles’s Motorcycle Diaries. Having travelled much of the same route that Ernesto “Che” Guevara took back in 1952, the film has special meaning for me. The places and people in the film are very real, and Salles didn’t have to do much to recreate the look of half a century ago.

I reviewed the film in September 2004 for the Times Literary Supplement. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Biopics are often unwieldy films, swinging from hyperbole to mawkishness and back.

The best ones tends to focus on a particular time in their famous subject’s life – a time that encapsulates both the mythology and the humanity of the person. Walter Salles’s new film The Motorcycle Diaries does this for Ernesto “Che” Guevara, taking its title from Guevara’s own travel memoir, and recreating his transformation from restless adventurer with vague notions of social justice to man of revolutionary conviction. In December 1951, two young Argentines, Alberto Granado and Ernesto Guevara Lynch -one a biochemist, the other a twenty-three-year-old medical student -set off on an eight-month journey across Latin America on a rickety 1939 Norton motorbike. The bike made it, just, across the Andes into Chile before quitting on them half way to Santiago. From there, the two men carried on via boat, plane, train, truck, and by foot, across Chile’s Atacama desert, over Peru’s snow-capped mountains to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, through Lima’s sprawl, and down the Amazon to Colombia, then Venezuela.

Salles is aware of the ecology of Guevara’s journey: that the territory through which the young men travel defines their drama as much as Guevara’s testimony.

You can read the full article here.

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