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Diarios de motocicleta y el verdadero Che

Although I'm freshly returned from Brazil, my mind is also on Cuba. In Rio I got to see Walter Salles' new film, The Motorcycle Diaries, set to open in the US some time this fall. As I mentioned previously the movie is about the trip young Ernesto Guevara took along the length of South America before he became the revolutionary Che. I had high hopes for the movie but I'm afraid it left me with mixed feelings: as a road movie it's gorgeous but as a biopic it seems simplistic.

It's not that I don't believe in the story -- an idealistic but naive young med student becomes radicalized by a trip through the realities of Latin America. That's an archetype as old as Buddha and an experience that I and the hispanophile liberals of my generation so longed for that it spawned a kind of political tourist industry in Nicaragua and elsewhere. And it's not that I don't believe in Gael García Bernal's once again outstanding performance. The problem is that Salles paints his subject with such an untarnished halo. I know that we're seeing young Che before he had any blood on his hands, but wouldn't a nuanced portrayal of his conversion include at least a hint of the moral ambiguities to come? And the symbolism used to show him crossing the line, even if it's biographically accurate (did he really swim that river?), is so heavy-handed that it threatens to swamp the whole project. Not even Salles' moving use of non-actors as the peasants, Indians, miners and lepers Che meets along the way (something he brilliantly underscores in a Richard-Avedon-like gallery during the credits) creates enough sense of reality to overcome the suspicion that we're watching hagiography instead of biography.

So when I got home the first book to jump off the shelf into my hand was Andrei Codrescu's Ay, Cuba! I've just started it but Codrescu's ironic form of anarcho-liberal anti-communism seems to be just the tonic I need after that movie. Codrescu cites Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che to show that by the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Che was an "insane ideological maniac" who was furious at Kruschev for not proceeding with WWIII, certainly destroying Cuba if not the planet in the process. Where is the tender-hearted med student in that murderous death wish? Maybe I'll read Anderson's book next to find out.

Motorcycle Diaries Ay, Cuba! Che: A Revolutionary Life

Meanwhile Codrescu's book has stirred up my longstanding wish to see Cuba once before Fidel dies and the gusanos carve up the place. And the Steven Soderburgh-Benicio del Toro project Che is scheduled to start shooting in August, 2005. Let us hope that Soderburgh learns a lesson from Salles' mistakes and drops the halo.

movies 2004.08.01 link


Welcome back. I can't wait to see The Motorcycle Diaries. I assume you've read the book? I was taken aback by the scene in the book when Che and Alberto go to a bar and Che throws down a woman to the ground. Did they include that in the movie?

Also, you should definitely head to Cuba as fast as you can. I just put up some photos from my trip there last year. If you have any travel questions just ask.

oso [oso cxe el-oso punkto net] • 2004.08.02
Nice photos! I gather from your bio that you're a US citizen, right? So how did you travel to Cuba? Did you go with a study group or just buy a State-Department-unapproved ticket in Mexico City? I have no desire to go to jail or lose my passport but I'd dearly love to make the trip, so your advice would be welcome (by private e-mail if you'd prefer to keep it out of Google). Thanks!

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.08.02
Oh, and to answer your question, no I haven't read Che's book. There are a number of picaresque scenes in the movie but they mostly portray Alberto as the carouser and Ernesto as an innocent lamb. I think the scene you describe does appear in the movie, although it may be spun a little differently. Che is about to leave a bar with a married woman when her husband spots her and Che is surprised that her "yes" suddenly turns into a loud "no". I took it that the woman then fell down but maybe Che did push her. In either case the crowd decides that Che was being abusive and he and Alberto flee before a mob. Did the scene have strong moral weight in the book? In the movie it's treated as just another amusing bump in the road before the serious stuff starts.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.08.02
Hey, Neuza just saw it down there, and reviewed it. In fact, darn it all, I am going to Brazil for ten days next week! We need to coordinate this at some point. Our plans for Cuba (assuming it does not go the way of neoliberal Iraq) is: marry a Brazilian with an EU passport, get an EU passport of your own, and then you can go. Sure, you might get called a "cheese-eating surrender monkey," but it might be worth it. I saw some young Cuban revolutionary vanguarders down in Porto Alegre in 2003. They had the personal hygiene and fashion sense of Haight-Asbury hippies and all the arrogance and yuppie unction of Ralph Reed. Ugh. When they do open up Cuba to free trade, I get dibs on the old Chevy market. I'll buy 'em up for $100 apiece and sell 'em to American Hot Rod for $5,000. As is.

Colin [cbrayton cxe blogalization punkto nu] • 2004.08.14
I seem to be on an early January + late July cycle for my Brazil trips, if it helps with the planning.

Regarding Cuba: how long does it take for the spouse of an EU passport holder to get his or her own? (You know that half of Brazil can use grandpappy's genes to get Portuguese or Italian citizenship if they can afford the attorney's fees and the genealogical research, right?)

But I'm not sure what good that would do you. Is there an exception to Helms-Burton for people with dual citizenship? My guess is that USAmericans are prohibited by our government from spending money in Cuba no matter how many passports we have.

As for the collector's car market, better start buying them now. Codrescu's book says there's a whole category of Cuban attorneys who specialize in selling advance rights on post-Fidel real estate. I'm sure they have a side interest in bridges, too. You could inspire them to branch out to cars.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.08.14
Here's a harsher interpretation of the movie from Slate, "The Cult of Che: Don't applaud The Motorcycle Diaries". Paul Berman is better informed than I about the blood on the hands of the later Che. But he seems dismissive of the suffering that young Ernesto saw on his travels which led to his radicalization. He labels the movie "indigenist" (his quotes), which he defines as an attitude of "sympathy for the Indians and hostility to the conquistadors" -- which in Berman's view seems to be a bad thing, but he doesn't explain why.

So like Berman I probably won't be wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt any time soon, unless perhaps ironically. But I think he, too, misses the most interesting question raised by the diaries, which is how humanitarian Ernesto turned into brutal Che.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.09.27
I would like to see Slate's movie, Can you tell me where to find a dvd copie? Ebay and amazon don't have it in stock now...

More info about Che books?

Eddy [info cxe heyche punkto com] • 2004.09.28
Sorry, Eddy, I guess I was unclear. Slate didn't put out a movie, they published a review of Walter Salles' movie. Click on the "Cult of Che" link above and you can read it.

Speaking of Che books, I was surprised at my local Barnes & Noble to see a stack of Diarios de motocicleta, in Spanish, on the New in Paperback table. I don't know whether it was a nod to hispanophile gringos like me or just an error; fishing through the stack I saw that the bottom half of the pile consisted of the English edition. The two cover designs are identical so it would be easy to mix them up.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.09.28
Dear all.
I was disturbed by some comments. I am from Chile, yet now live in Australia and have learnt about the Cuban Revolution at a University level. The film "Diarios de Motocicleta" was meant to represent the descent that Ernesto has towards the persona of Che that he will become. The change is epitomized well as the film shows how the idealistic Ernesto becomes the radical-revolutionary, Che. This change therefore must show how extreme the change was, how Ernesto so torn by the situation of the people is plunged into the extremist thoughts. His mind is crazed by the inequality and he sponges the anguish, yet it is then after the ‘trip’ that his true ideas are realized and he himself is aware of what he must accomplish.

Therefore do not be quick to judge, the film is certainly, very in-depth.

penny [pennylane cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2005.10.11

info mb [lucianobutt cxe yahoo punkto com punkto ar] • 2005.11.30
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