Valparaiso, the Chilean port town, was for many years the home of Pablo Neruda. He called it a lunatic, crazy port like a man with disheveled hair in his Oda a Valpariaso. When Che Guevara and Alberto Granada, having disposed of their ill-fated motorbike, ride into Valparaiso sitting in the cabin of a truck, Che starts reciting this poem and is spontaneously joined by the truck driver. This, to me, was the reason to watch this film.
I had read The Motorcycle Diaries a few years followed by Che’s account of the Cuban Revolutionary War. I have his other works including the Bolivian Diaries and the African Dream (as yet unread). Having this background and with all that is written about Che, one must ask what is it that a movie can give that is not already known. The answer, as I said earlier, is best explained by the above passage.
One must see the film to experience South America. Stripped of the political messages, the film is a road trip movie without the crass American humour. The film lingers tenderly on the landscape of the continent as it moves from ranches of Argentina into the southern Andes of Chile then to the arid dry Atacama with its silver mines then climbing up to Machu Pichu and then coming back down to the Amazon rainforests. Every place has its uniqueness but there is a common thread throughout which the two travelers highlight – a continent where two diverse races struggling to create a co-existence.
There are many deviations from the book – one of the reasons being that Alberto Granada supplied half the material from his own memory. But this post is not a review or criticism of the film. It is a piece on the ideas being brought out by the film. In the book, one can easily discern the slow evolution in Che’s worldview. There are key moments – the miner couple who joins them in the Chilean desert, the leprosy hospital with the patients divided from the rest of the world by the river and so on. The film seems to exaggerate some of these scenes.
But the success of the film lies in the fact that it makes you one of them – you are going through the same experiences and in your mind, you are making the same arguments that Che is probably making. Whether you agree with his world view or not, you have the opportunity to broaden your mind and consider the development of that world view.
One must also remember that while Guevara is the more famous and by default central figure, one cannot ignore the contribution of Granada. After all it was his idea to travel around the continent. In the movie, he is made out to be a guy looking for the easy way out, making up stories to con people to letting them spend the night in the barn for free or getting a round of drinks on the house. But this aspect of the character is balanced by his regular acceptance of what is the right thing to do. The real Alberto Granada makes a cameo appearance in the final scene of the film – watching the plane taking off in Bogota with Guevara on board.