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The Motorcycle Diaries
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie has some social drinking, strong language, and discussions of a sexual nature. This is a biopic of the early life of future Communist guerilla leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara, but impressionable youths aren't too likely to convert to Marxism solely by watching -- if they're interested at all (unless your kids have a deep interest in the subject already or love polishing up their Spanish-language skills, they probably won't have much interest).
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What's the story?
This leisurely drama follows a real-life 1952 road trip by two young men across South America. One of them, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, will later become a Communist revolutionary and Fidel Castro cohort nicknamed "Che." Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a 23-year-old medical student from a privileged Buenos Aries background who joins pal Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna) for a four-month tour of South America to celebrate Alberto's 30th birthday and give Ernesto some time with his girlfriend. They ride on Alberto's 1939 motorbike. In Chile the vehicle conks out for good, and Ernesto's girlfriend breaks up with him via letter. The pair now hike overland, finding shelter and trying to keep to their itinerary, which ends with a humanitarian visit to a leprosy clinic. There's no hokey stroke-of-lightning moment when Ernesto realizes his destiny, just little incidents in which the pair witness injustice, usually against the native Indians, the poor, or anyone opposing corporations or landowners. Alberto is mostly into scamming and chasing girls, but an epilogue explains that his trip with the future Che changed Alberto's life forever. (THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES is based closely on both Alberto's memoirs and Ernesto's journal.)
Is it any good?
This is a very subtle, realistic film (Marxism and the United States are barely mentioned) compared to the hysterical propaganda pieces that came out of the former USSR, or even the U.S. Indeed, if these were two fictional characters you'd think it was just a well-acted, rather shapeless road-movie about friendship and Latin America in the 1950s. We doubt impressionable youth will convert to Castroism solely by watching, without additional reinforcement, although the moviemakers certainly find Ernesto deeply admirable from the get-go. Unlike Alberto, Ernesto tells the truth even when it hurts, and shows innate compassion for the downtrodden. And who could argue with that? (Many Americans regard Che and his comrades as terrorists and critics of the movie have compared the Communists to the Nazis)
The Motorcycle Diaries stars some of the top Latin-American actors and lists Robert Redford as the executive producer. For young viewers, however, unless they've got a deep interest in the subject already, or love polishing up their Spanish-language skills, this journey might seem longer than Frodo and Samwise walking to Mount Doom.
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