Running Time: 128 mins
Since his death in 1967, Che Guevara has become a symbol of revolution, an icon for all types of protest. There have been a number of documentaries on him, especially his role in the Cuban uprising (with some comments from Castro himself in Oliver Stone's Commandante) and a late 60s Hollywood biopic with Omar Sharif. Walter Salles' film is based on his diaries, written during a trip in 1952 which took him through his native Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and ended in Venezuela. It is also based on the book by his friend, Alberto Granado, who shared the journey and who also went to Cuba and still lives there (his old and gnarled face being the final image of the film).
The journey was life-changing for the 24 year old medical student. The film shows nothing of his later life and battles. Rather, it portrays a personal Latin American journey of the early 1950s. What started as an adventure was gradually transformed into the beginnings of social consciousness and a fight for justice. This is the journey that the audience shares.
Using the conventions of the road movie, the film, at first, seems just another buddy experience in beautiful, rugged and remote areas, the usual spills from their old motor bike, bluffing their way into people's homes, flirting along the way. But, by the time we reach the mines of Chile, the Indians in Cuzko and the lepers in San Pablo, Peru, we share the awareness of social inequality and the need for action that is both compassionate and just.
As Guevara, Gael Garcia Bernal gives yet another fine, generally understated performance. He is matched by the exuberance of Rodrigo de la Serna as Alberto. The film notes that this is not a tale of mighty deeds but rather smaller and more ordinary action. It is still only too relevant to today and to the countries of South and Central America, a plea for action.
This film was the Ecumenical award winner at Cannes in 2004.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.