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Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles
THE FILM Motorcycle Diaries is the true story of the journey undertaken by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara de la Serna and his friend Alberto Granado through South America.
Starting off from their home in Buenos Aires in Argentina in 1952 these two medical students leave behind their comfortable middle-class lifestyle and set off on an old motorbike to find out about the rest of America. But Che discovers injustice on this journey. The rest is history.
It is a journey through Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia ending in Venezuela that takes these two privileged students on an expedition into the real life of the South American masses. Soon they run out of money and try to scam and charm their way along. But they really survive through the generosity of the poorest people who help them along their way.
Then they discover the real South America. As we travel with them through stunning scenes of natural beauty they share life with the landless labourers evicted from their land by the big landlords, the indigenous peoples forced to sell their labour, the workers forced to travel to beg for work in the mines in the mountains and the peoples trying to build a new life around the Amazon.
They discover the monumental injustice that grips the continent then and now. Many of the people featured in the film are not actors but people telling the truth about life now just the same as in 1952.
According to the film this is the journey that propels medical student Ernesto Guevara towards revolutionary Che. As well as acquiring the nickname 'Che' because of his Argentinean accent, Guevara becomes convinced that he has to struggle against the injustices afflicting the continent.
The film reaches its climax at a leper colony in Peru when Che proclaims there is no real distinction between the peoples of the countries of the continent and declares for a "United America" rejecting the artificial national barriers erected by imperialism. But his is not a purely anti-imperialist call. Unlike some demagogues who call for the unity of Latin America he turns first to the multi-millioned masses and the downtrodden. He symbolically swims the Amazon to join the most oppressed, the inmates of the leper colony.
Motorcycle Diaries charts the beginning of Che Guevara's journey to fight for the social emancipation and unity of the peoples of South America. The story is so enthralling that it takes us with him. It doesn't explain his later ideas or the mistakes that he made. But it shows what changed him into a revolutionary.
But the film also underlines that the same oppression exists today and new Ches are being created.
In The Socialist 4 September 2004:
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