I did a paper on Argentina in my first year in university. Beef is one of that country’s largest exports. There will be a lot of cows in this movie.
So Che Guevarra, known as Ernesto ‘Fuser’ Guevarra (Gael Garcia Bernal) was my age in 1951 and is best friends with a guy named Alberto (Rodrigo De la Serna), aged thirty, both of whom are passionate young adults who are kind of lost just like I am? Sweet and comforting, actually.
The Motorcycle Diaries follows the two men as they try to make it from Argentina to Venezuela by a motorcycle they call The Mighty One or The Powerful, depending on the translation, hoping to make it there for Alberto’s birthday. The film oscillates between the innate greatness and the precarious uncertainly of young lives of these two future leaders.
Although they are the main characters of the film, they’re also not necessarily the heroes since as young men, their strengths won’t be as well moulded. The movie’s technically about Ernesto, sometimes he steps aside for Alberto, who’s more charismatic to women and is a better dancer than he is. Both the young men also take the same humble attitude and watch great actions from the people they meet along their journey. Alberto, on his birthday and far from Venezuela, stumbles and says that traveling up a hill isn’t humanly possible, then we see a Native walk uphill. The two city boys learn from the people they meet and gather the fortitude to do impossible things themselves, like tell a doctor he can’t write or refuse to wear gloves while shaking hands with lepers or swim across a dangerous river at nighttime.
The trip is an educational experience in all the ways they have intended or otherwise, finding out for instance about specific restrictions. The two are kicked off a mining site while trying to watch out for a Communist couple, or the Natives are kicked off their land by corporations, both examples fueling outrage within Ernest and Alberto’s young minds.
Comparisons are inevitably drawn between this film and Bernal’s other road trip movie, Y Tu Mama Tambien. Ernesto fools around with his girlfriend in a car, although the scene’s tamer here. He and Alberto are also going to fight along the way. However, unlike the comfortable distance Julio and Tenoch has inside a car, ‘The Powerful’ becomes ‘The Deceased,’ the young men have to go on foot as they stubbornly continue their journey. Walking, as these guys say, makes them actually meet and talk to people along the way. They have informative conversations with drifters, or lepers who aren’t being treated well by the nuns in the settlement. The desolate injustices hinted at in Y Tu Mama Tambien are more pronounced in this film but the impact somehow seems lessened.
My TA John was talking about subtext in film and talked about this movie in how Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are using Luisa’s (Maribel Verdu) sexually to hide their feelings for each other. Annoyingly I interject ‘But isn’t it also about the history and sociology of Mexico undergoing generational and political change?’ He, like a saint, replies something in the lines of ‘Yes, as well as about two dudes who secretly wanna fuck each other.’
The second time around, I appreciated how much Luisa rubs that subtext in the guys’ faces.
My mom walked into the scene when Tenoch was having sex with Luisa. And apparently my aunt was ‘shocked,’ even though the latter quipped that my viewing of it was ‘educational.’ That went well.
The first time I full watched this movie was thankfully by the time I was in college, since nudity would be close to nothing to me and just cared about the bleak Mexican landscapes. And this movie also taught me what ‘pendejo’ means.
The second time around might feel like grasping at straws, but when you’re watching a movie the second time do you just look at things like the characters’ tastes in interior design, books, music, etc.? This is a movie about teenage boys, a social demographic that barely if ever cleans their house or are tacky enough to put lots of stickers in their cars. Like the anarchy sticker on the right hind (?) windows, showing how Julio shares his car with his college activist sister. That we’re always looking out through the right set of windows to be reminded of that sticker once in a while. Or, most likely unrelated to teenage aesthetics, that I’m kinda angry that I can’t tell who the girl is in that Vogue Eyewear ad campaign at the background in the end of the movies. Or that Luisa hasn’t touched that Yeats book that her pretentious, cheating ass fiance owns. Or that there’s a hotel in rural Mexico with nice beds and a shitty pool. Or, as Lars pointed out the Jules et Jim and Harold and Maude poster and in the room where Tenoch is fucking either Ana or Ceci. Both posters also foreshadow the film’s plot.
Also, where is Maribel Verdu’s ticket to Hollywood? Yes, she has Pan’s Labyrinth, but where’s her Bad Education or Milk or Vicky Cristina Barcelona? Verdu can tell Debbie Downer stories without sounding like Debbie Downer herself.
Speaking of Debbie Downer, I’m trying to fully articulate what I think about Luisa. She’s receptive of the adolescent goofiness of Tweedele-boi and Tweedle-bum, cries in private, receptive again – no pun intended, then she blows up on them, then receptive again. It’s difficult to believe that she easily adapted a Hanna Schmitz-like role towards these boys and/or that she only came out with them as a now-or-never thing. Tenoch lightly accuses Julio of being a leech, but she partakes in the leechiness too. Sexual favours, her escape towards a paradise death – dying in Heaven’s Mouth, so to speak. And that we only see her cry once without having a barrier between her and the camera shows how we’re seeing this woman from a man’s gaze – we pity her but we will never understand her, and it’s a bit frustrating but thankfully not distracting from the film’s merits.
Bechdel time! Luisa asks tour guide Chuy’s wife Mabel for travel tips for where the other beaches are, and she also asks about the beautiful native names of the beaches and towns. Pass!
And not the biggest fan of the shakycam.
Lastly, I also wonder whether Julio and Tenoch would ever friend each other on Facebook.