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DVD Pick: "The Motorcycle Diaries"

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Directed by Walter Salles ("Central Station"), the Spanish-language "The Motorcycle Diaries" (2004) stars Gael García Bernal ("Y tu mamá también," "Amores perros") in the role of Che Guevara. The film has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Although the movie drew me in slowly, by the end I was carried away by the high level of craft, including the strong performances by the lead actors, the superb cinematography and music, and the emotional power of the story.

A combination docudrama and travelogue, "The Motorcycle Diaries" chronicles a long, unhurried, circuitous trip from Buenos Aires to Venezuela that Guevara took when he was in his early twenties. On the trip, he was accompanied by Alberto Granado, engagingly played in the film by newcomer Rodrigo de la Serna.

Although voice-over narration has weakened many a film, "The Motorcycle Diaries" used this device judiciously, and I thought it had the beautiful effect of evoking the movie's literary sources. The film is based on two books: Guevara's "The Motorcycle Diaries" and Granado's "Traveling With Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary."

The heart of the movie takes place in Chile and Peru, where the two young men encounter poverty, exploitation, and injustice. I found the faces of some of the people they meet along the way very interesting.

The film's concept is that it was on this journey the young Guevara's consciousness was raised, which would later lead to his becoming a Marxist revolutionary and international cult figure. But I am reviewing the movie in terms of cinema, not as politics.

Perhaps I should warn you that "The Motorcycle Diaries" doesn't have the kind of amped-up drama found in most Hollywood films. For example, the climax comes when Guevara proposes a toast to a united Latin America and then swims across the Amazon River. There is drama here, but it's subtle and character-based, and as far as I am concerned, all the more deeply satisfying because of it.

One of the pleasures of "The Motorcycle Diaries" for me was the Latin American music on the soundtrack. It's not surprising that one of the musical numbers, "Al Otro Lado Del Río," won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

"The Motorcycle Diaries" won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Best Foreign Language Film. However, the movie wasn't even considered for an Oscar in that category because of the peculiar Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rules! The reason is that the film is multi-national and could not meet the Oscar rule requiring a movie to be submitted for consideration by an individual country certifying that creative talent of that country exercised artistic control.

There's a handful of bonus materials on the DVD, but in addition to being rather short in length, I found them shallow, and I thought that a film of this caliber deserved better. But for me, the real value of "The Motorcycle Diaries" on DVD is being able to watch the film repeatedly.

Below I've listed all the special features of "The Motorcycle Diaries" DVD.

DVD Details:

  • DVD Release Date: February 15, 2005
  • Feature Run Time: 2 hours 6 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R for Language
  • Widescreen (1.85:1), Color
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English Captions for the Hearing Impaired
  • French Subtitles
  • Deleted Scenes (8 min. 25 sec.)
  • A Moment With Alberto Granado (3 min. 15 sec.)
  • Making of "The Motorcycle Diaries" (22 min.)
  • A Moment With Gael García Bernal (2 min. 49 sec.)
  • "Toma Una" ("Take One") With Gael García Bernal (2 min. 16 sec.)
  • Music of the Road: Interview With Composer (3 min. 6 sec.)
  • Cast and Filmmakers (text)
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