4 · The Motorcycle Diaries

A few days after writing about its music I’m back onto South America, which exercises a growing pull on my imagination these days. Two of my favourite movies of last year, City of God and Touching the Void, were set there. Learning Spanish had something to do with it too, I guess; as has seeing some friends’ photos from a nine-day hike through the glaciers of southern Argentina.

Perhaps that’s why The Motorcycle Diaries has lingered in my mind longer than its straightforward road-movie storyline would seem to warrant. It was well-acted and plotted, but the tale of a pre-“Che” Ernesto Guevara isn’t as obvious a choice for big-screen treatment as his later life as a revolutionary. There’s enough incident here to keep the viewer engaged—life-threatening asthma attacks, daring swims across the Amazon—but the real interest is in seeing the length and breadth of South America’s landscapes and people represented on screen in a way that few mainstream movies have done before. The Motorcycle Diaries helps explain why this beautiful, varied, and difficult place inspired such fierce passions in Guevara, his friend Alberto, and others like them; and unlike Dwayne and Clare’s holiday photos, its amazing images are available to everyone.