The Motorcycle Diaries (film)

For the Malayalam film, see Motorcycle Diaries (film).
The Motorcycle Diaries

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Walter Salles
Produced by Edgard Tenenbaum
Michael Nozik
Karen Tenkhoff
Screenplay by José Rivera
Based on The Motorcycle Diaries
by Che Guevara
Starring Gael García Bernal
Rodrigo de la Serna
Mercedes Morán
Jean Pierre Noher
Facundo Espinosa
Mía Maestro
Music by Gustavo Santaolalla
Cinematography Eric Gautier
Edited by Daniel Rezende
Distributed by Buena Vista International (ARG)
Pathé (UK)
Focus Features (USA)
Release dates
  • 15 January 2004 (2004-01-15) (Sundance)
  • 19 May 2004 (2004-05-19) (Cannes)
  • 24 September 2004 (2004-09-24) (USA)
Running time
126 minutes[1]
Country Argentina
United States
United Kingdom
Language Spanish
Box office $57.7 million[2]

The Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish: Diarios de motocicleta) is a 2004 biopic about the journey and written memoir of the 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara, who would several years later become internationally known as the iconic Marxist guerrilla commander and revolutionary Che Guevara. The film recounts the 1952 expedition, initially by motorcycle, across South America by Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. As well as being a road movie, the film is a coming-of-age film; as the adventure, initially centered on youthful hedonism, unfolds, Guevara discovers himself transformed by his observations on the life of the impoverished indigenous peasantry. Through the characters they encounter on their continental trek, Guevara and Granado witness firsthand the injustices that the destitute face and are exposed to people and social classes they would have never encountered otherwise. To their surprise, the road presents to them both a genuine and captivating picture of Latin American identity. As a result, the trip also plants the initial seed of cognitive dissonance and radicalization within Guevara, who ostensibly would later view armed revolution as a way to challenge the continent's endemic economic inequalities.

The screenplay is based primarily on Guevara's travelogue of the same name, with additional context supplied by Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary by Alberto Granado. Guevara is played by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal (who previously played Che in the 2002 miniseries Fidel), and Granado by the Argentine actor Rodrigo de la Serna, who coincidentally is a second cousin to the real life Guevara on his maternal side.[3] Directed by Brazilian director Walter Salles and written by Puerto Rican playwright José Rivera, the film was an international co-production among production companies from Argentina, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Chile, Peru and France. The film's executive producers were Robert Redford, Paul Webster, and Rebecca Yeldham; the producers were Edgard Tenenbaum, Michael Nozik, and Karen Tenkhoff; and the co-producers were Daniel Burman and Diego Dubcovsky.


"The Che of The Motorcycle Diaries is more akin to Jack Kerouac or Neal Cassady than Marx or Lenin."
Paul Webster, executive producer[4]

In 1952, a semester before Ernesto "Fuser" Guevara is due to complete his medical degree, he and his older friend Alberto Granado, a biochemist, leave Buenos Aires in order to travel across South America. While there is a goal at the end of their journey - they intend to work in a leper colony in Peru - the main purpose is initially fun and adventure. They desire to see as much of Latin America as they can, more than 14,000 kilometres (8,700 mi) in just four and a half months, while Granado's purpose is also to court as many women as will fall for his pick-up lines. Their initial method of transport is Granado's dilapidated Norton 500 motorcycle christened La Poderosa ("The Mighty One").

Their planned route is ambitious, bringing them north across the Andes, along the coast of Chile, through the Atacama Desert and into the Peruvian Amazon in order to reach Venezuela just in time for Granado's 30th birthday on 2 April. However, due to La Poderosa's breakdown, they are forced to travel at a much slower pace, and don't make it to Caracas until July.

During their expedition, Guevara and Granado encounter the poverty of the indigenous peasants, and the movie assumes a greater seriousness once the men gain a better sense of the disparity between the "haves" (to which they belong) and the "have-nots" (who make up the majority of those they encounter) by traveling on foot. In Chile, for instance, they encounter a penniless and persecuted couple forced onto the road because of their communist beliefs. In a fire-lit scene, Guevara and Granado ashamedly admit to the couple that they are not out looking for work as well. The duo then accompanies the couple to the Chuquicamata copper mine, where Guevara becomes angry at the treatment of the workers.

The Daily Telegraph remarked that "the scenes at Machu Picchu are worth watching several times over."[5][6]

However, it is a visit to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru that solidifies something in Guevara. His musings are then somberly refocused to how an indigenous civilization capable of building such beauty could be destroyed by the creators of the eventual polluted urban decay of nearby Lima.[6] His reflections are interrupted by Granado, who shares with him a dream to peacefully revolutionize and transform modern South America, to which Guevara quickly retorts: "A revolution without guns? It will never work."

Later, in Peru, they volunteer for three weeks at the San Pablo leper colony. There, Guevara observes both literally and metaphorically the division of society, as the staff live on the north side of a river, separated from the deprived lepers living to the south. To demonstrate his solidarity, Guevara refuses to wear rubber gloves during his visit, choosing instead to shake bare hands with the surprised leper patients.

"Every generation needs a journey story; every generation needs a story about what it is to be transformed by geography, what it is to be transformed by encounters with cultures and people that are alien from yourself, and you know that age group 15 to 25, that’s the perfect generation to get on a motorcycle, to hit the road, to put on your backpack and just go out."

José Rivera, screenwriter, NPR[7]

At the end of the film, after his sojourn at the leper colony, Guevara confirms his nascent egalitarian, anti-authority impulses, while making a birthday toast, which is also his first political speech. In it he evokes a pan-Latin American identity that transcends both the arbitrary boundaries of nation and race. These encounters with social injustice transform the way Guevara sees the world, and by implication motivates his later political activities as a Marxist revolutionary.

Lastly, Guevara makes his symbolic "final journey" at night when, despite his asthma, he swims across the river that separates the two societies of the leper colony, to spend the night in a leper shack, instead of in the doctors cabins. As they bid each other farewell, Granado reveals that his birthday was not in fact 2 April, but rather 8 August, and that the aforementioned goal was simply a motivator: Guevara replies that he knew all along. The film is closed with an appearance by the real 82-year-old Alberto Granado, along with pictures from the actual journey and a brief mention of Che Guevara's eventual 1967 CIA-assisted execution in the Bolivian jungle.



The film shows what we were, which was two young men - boys, really - who went looking for adventure and found the truth and tragedy of our homeland.
  Alberto Granado, 2004[9]

To prepare for the role of the young Che Guevara, Gael García Bernal went through six months of intense preparation. This groundwork included reading "every biography" about Guevara, traveling to Cuba to speak with Guevara's family, and consulting with Guevara's then still living travel partner Alberto Granado.[10] Despite being in his eighties, Granado was also taken on as an adviser by Salles, and enthusiastically followed the film crew as they retraced his former journey.[11]

Moreover, García Bernal (who is Mexican) adopted an Argentine accent and spent 14 weeks reading the works of José Martí,[12] Karl Marx and Pablo Neruda (Guevara's favorite poet). García Bernal told reporters "I feel a lot of responsibility. I want to do it well because of what Che represents to the world. He is a romantic. He had a political consciousness that changed Latin America."[13] According to García Bernal, the role crystallized his "own sense of duty" because Guevara "decided to live on the side of the mistreated, to live on the side of the people who have no justice - and no voice." In surmising the similarities between his own personal transformation and Guevara's, García Bernal posits that "my generation is awakening, and we're discovering a world full of incredible injustice."[12]

Granado later stated that he appreciated the film's effort "to dig beneath the "mythical Che", whose defiant image appears on T-shirts and posters around the world, "to reveal the flawed, flesh-and-blood Ernesto beneath."[9]

Film locales

"We were re-enacting a journey that was done 50 years ago, and what's surprising is that the social problems of Latin America are the same. Which is heartbreaking in a way, but it also makes you feel how important it is to tell the story."

In a journey that lasts eight months, the partners travel over 14,000 kilometers, from Argentina through Chile, Peru, and Colombia to Venezuela. Key locations along the journey described in the film include: In Argentina: Buenos Aires, Miramar, Villa Gesell, San Martín de los Andes, Lago Frías, Patagonia and Nahuel Huapi Lake ; In Chile: Temuco, Los Angeles, Valparaiso, Atacama desert, and Chuquicamata; In Peru: Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lima; The San Pablo Leper Colony; Plus Leticia, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela.

Reviewer Nick Cowen of The Daily Telegraph described the scenery as "visually stunning" while remarking that "the cinematography of fog-cloaked mountains, lush, green forests and sun burnt deserts is breathtakingly beautiful enough to serve as a travel advert for the entire continent."[5]

Tourist trails

"The film The Motorcycle Diaries showed the world Che's journey through Latin America and we have even designed our own tour following in his footsteps, it's great to know that the countries are collaborating to ensure his memory too."
Laura Rendell-Dunn, Journey Latin America[15]

The Observer reported that shortly after the film's release, tour operators in the region received a surge of inquiries, with some of them even offering Che Guevara-themed trips, where travelers could "follow in the footsteps of the revolutionary icon."[16]

In May 2010, tourism chiefs in Argentina, Bolivia and Cuba announced that they were working together on an international tourist route that will trace the life of Che Guevara.[15] Although Guevara is already the focus of tourist sites in his home country of Argentina, where visitors can visit his birthplace and his family's mate plantation, this trail entitled the "Caminos de Che", aims to allow tourists to venture to the three countries that most influenced the young Guevara's life.[15] Diego Conca, coordinator for the Che trail in Argentina, remarked that "people all over the world ask us for more information, each month there's more interest, and now with Bolivia, we think there will be even more."[15]

Location notes


The score for The Motorcycle Diaries was composed by Gustavo Santaolalla. The film's soundtrack was released on the Deutsche Grammophon label in 2004.


The film was first presented at the Sundance Film Festival on 15 January 2004. Granado had an invitation to the Sundance premiere, but he was refused an entry Visa by the United States.[11] Later it was featured at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival on 19 May, and Granado was able to attend.

The film later screened at many other film festivals, including: the Auckland International Film Festival, New Zealand; the Copenhagen International Film Festival, Denmark; the Espoo Film Festival, Finland; the Telluride Film Festival, United States; the Toronto International Film Festival, Canada; the Vancouver International Film Festival, Canada; the Celebrating Literature in Cinema Film Festival Frankfurt, Germany; the Morelia Film Festival, Mexico; and others.

Release dates

Critical reception

"The Motorcycle Diaries may not provide any satisfactory answers as to how a 23-year-old medical student went on to become arguably the most famous revolutionary of the latter half of the 20th Century, but it has an undeniable charm in that it imbues the memories of youth with a sense of altruism and purity – which are complemented by the scenery. It's an incomplete portrait to be sure, but it's a gorgeous depiction of two best friends riding unknowingly into the history books."

The Motorcycle Diaries was released to very positive reviews by critics, and received a standing ovation at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.[19] The New York Times film critic, A.O. Scott, wrote that "in Mr. Salles's hands what might have been a schematic story of political awakening becomes a lyrical exploration of the sensations and perceptions from which a political understanding of the world emerges."[20] Gregory Weinkauf of the Dallas Observer espoused that the film "delivers as both biography and road movie, and proves itself a deceptively humble epic, an illuminating part of the Che legacy."[21] Claudia Puig of USA Today postulated that "the movie achieves an impressive blend of emotional resonance and light entertainment" while describing it as "more coming-of-age story than biopic" and "a transformative adventure well worth watching."[22] Keri Petersen of The Gainesville Sun referred to the film as "a gorgeous, poetic adventure."[23]

Paula Nechak of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer praised director Salles by remarking that he "presents the evolutionary course of a young man who coincidentally became the dorm-room poster boy for an idealistic generation, and captures the lovely, heart-and-eye-opening ode to youthful possibility with affection and compassion."[24] While Washington Post critic Desson Thomson lent praise for the films starring actor by observing that "what Bernal and this well-wrought movie convey so well is the charisma that would soon become a part of human history, and yes, T-shirts."[25]

Among the film's few detractors was Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who described the film's positive reviews as "a matter of political correctness, I think; it is uncool to be against Che Guevara." Ebert also criticized the film's characterization: "seen simply as a film, The Motorcycle Diaries is attenuated and tedious. We understand that Ernesto and Alberto are friends, but that's about all we find out about them; they develop none of the complexities of other on-the-road couples... Nothing is startling or poetic."[26] Jessica Winter of The Village Voice also criticized the film's simplistic representation of the peasantry, describing "the young men's encounters with conscience-pricking, generically noble locals" who are occasionally assembled "to face the camera in a still life of heroic, art-directed suffering".[27] The film also received criticism for its positive representation of Guevara as a youthful idealist. Anthony Daniels, an outspoken critic of Guevara's, argued that the film helps to continue his wrongful glorification, noting "The film is thus the cinematic equivalent of the Che Guevara T-shirt; it is morally monstrous and emotionally trivial."[28] While Frans Weiser agreed, saying that the film's narrative is dominated by reductive images of Guevara as an idealistic, loveable rogue.[29]

For their part, the online review aggregator Metacritic gives the film a score of 75, indicating generally favorable reviews, while Rotten Tomatoes records 84% favorable reviews among 148 reviews.[30] Furthermore, British historian Alex von Tunzelmann, who reviews films at The Guardian for historical accuracy, graded the film an A- in "History", while giving the film a B in "Entertainment".[31] After comparing scenes from the film to the actual diaries, Tunzelmann posited that "The Motorcycle Diaries gets a lot right, it's an entertaining and accurate portrayal of the formative youth of a revolutionary icon."[31]




  1. "DIARIOS DE MOTOCICLETA - THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 2004-07-07. Retrieved 2013-03-18.
  2. The Motorcycle Diaries at Box Office Mojo
  3. Durbin, Karen. The New York Times, Arts Section, 12 September 2004. Last accessed: 23 March 2008.
  4. O'Hagan, Sean (11 July 2004). "Just A Pretty Face?". The Observer.
  5. 1 2 3 Wheels On Film: The Motorcycle Diaries by Nick Cowen and Hari Patience, The Daily Telegraph April 27, 2009
  6. 1 2 Excerpted Clip of Machu Picchu from the film The Motorcycle Diaries directed by Walter Salles, distributed by Focus Features, 2004
  7. Thirty Years After His Death, Che Guevara Still an Icon by NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, 3 October 2004
  8. "afrocrowd". Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  9. 1 2 Alberto Granado, Che Guevara's Motorcycle Companion, Dies at 88 by Emma Brown, The Washington Post, 8 March 2011
  10. New Latin Revolution: Interview with Gael Garcia Bernal
  11. 1 2 3 Biochemist and Che's Motorcycle Companion by The Irish Times, 12 March 2011
  12. 1 2 The Citizen Actor: Gael Garcia Bernal's Sense of Duty by Jesse Ashlock, RES Magazine
  13. Che Trippers by Lawrence Osborne, The New York Observer, 15 June 2003
  14. Winter, Jessica (28 September 2004). "Sympathy for the Rebel". Village Voice.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Gordon, Sarah (28 May 2010). "Che Guevara Tourist Trail to follow his Life through Argentina, Cuba and Bolivia". Daily Mail.
  16. Che leads Holiday Revolution in South America by Gemma Bowes, The Observer, 19 September 2004
  17. 1 2 New Latin Revolution: Interview with Gale Garcia Bernal
  18. He Rode with Che by The Daily Telegraph, 13 March 2011
  19. Sundance Flips for Che Guevara By Roger Friedman, 19 January 2004, Fox News
  20. Scott A.O. The New York Times, film review, 24 September 2004.
  21. "The Importance of Being Ernesto", By Gregory Weinkauf, 30 September 2004, Dallas Observer
  22. "Guevara's life takes shape in 'Diaries", By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY, Sept 27 2004
  23. 10 Foreign Films that make you Forget they have Subtitles by Keri Petersen, The Gainesville Sun, 23 July 2010
  24. "Motorcycle Diaries': On the road with a young Che", by Paula Nechak, 1 October 2004, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  25. "Viva Che!", By Desson Thomson, Washington Post, 1 October 2004
  26. Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times, film review, 1 October 2004.
  27. Jessica Winter, 'Child of the Revolution', The Village Voice, 14 September 2004.
  28. Daniels, Anthony (2004). "The Real Che". The New Criterion. 23: 26. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  29. Weiser, Frans (4 December 2013). "Writing "Che" Writing: Apocryphal Diaries and the Deconstruction of Guevara's Myth". Hispania. 96 (4): 704. doi:10.1353/hpn.2013.0126. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  30. The Motorcycle Diaries at Metacritic, accessed 23 March 2008; The Motorcycle Diaries at Rotten Tomatoes, accessed 23 March 2008.
  31. 1 2 The Motorcycle Diaries: Che's Clean Getaway by Alex von Tunzelmann, The Guardian, 14 April 2011
  32. Cannes Film Festival awards. Last accessed: 23 March 2008.
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