Friday, January 26, 2007

"Kino's Journey" meets bloody Marxist revolution

Subject: Cinema
Che Guevara was a nasty SOB, in terms of how he conducted himself as a Revolutionary in Cuba and in various South American conflicts. "Motorcycle Diaries" is a movie that tries to illuminate the young Ernesto; a medical student who embarks on a classic Campellian journey to discover the South American continent in the 1950's, with his hedonistic buddy, aboard a rickety "pissing oil" motorcycle. The movie wants you to know that young Ernesto encountered a heck of a lot of injustice and whatnot, which led him from his bourgiouse existence to the ruthless Marxist he became.

Granted, I can empathize, though on a totally abstract level. Che is a legend and has a certain cache to his image (on ironic propoganda-art-evokative t-shirts and whatnot), and the story of why he turned to such a revolutionary life is probably quite genuine and something you can empathize with.

And I don't really know enough about Che and what he's done, and what he did previous to that life, to pass judgement. Only enough to believe that he was passionate about what he was doing, and probably believed in it up until the end. (Which, coincidentally, was the month I was born. Weird, that.)

Still, the movie was positively transporting. You were really there in South America -- Argentina, Chile, Peru -- in the early 1950's. The location shots and the atmosphere and the attention to the little details really captured a solid sense of place, and gave you something to ride along with. When the interactions with the characters was on a wholly and genuinely personal level, it was quite believable and very illuminating.

Where it started to fall apart was when we were supposed to "realize" the moment when young Ernesto began to recognize the injustice he was encountering in the "real" world. The thing is, the "injustice" was kind of one-dimensional. I knew quite well that things were rather shitty for the native populations, the poorer migrants, and other underclass elements like lepers and whatnot -- heck, they still are in a lot of places. So in a way, his "discovery" of all of this rings hollow in a lot of ways; like "you're only just noticing?" Not entirely fair, but it's kind of assuming a level of naivete that is hard to muster in this day and age.

Plus, the "injustice" he encounters is kind of weak, as injustice goes. A native couple needs to go work in the mines, and the bosses don't give them any water. Natives in Cuzco have to make tradeoffs just to survive, but it's only expressed in a short translated exchange. Lepers in a Catholic-run colony are suddenly infused with a new purpose in life because our youthful duo visits and selflessly flaunts the strict nuns' rules. Otherwise, they're flirting with young gals, conning average folks for food and shelter, and otherwise blustering their way through the ordinary lives of other people in other countries. And while it's suggested, they don't seem to be particularly suffering. So the connection between "Che the bloody revolutionary" and "Ernesto the clueless asthmatic med student out on a lark" is really hard to make despite the attempts at ominous forshadowing facial expressions in the film.

But like I said, the visuals and location elements really make this film. We even get to spend some time in Peru and Macchu Picchu, which ties in coincendentally with the latest news about "El Cazador". Go figure.

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