Historical rite of passage filmed for the big screen

What do we leave behind when we cross a frontier? Each moment seems split in two: melancholy for what is left behind and the excitement of entering a new land.» This poetic side of Che Guevara is reflected in the journal he kept during his months-long tour of Latin America with his friend Alberto Granado. Both men were students at the time (1951), Guevara in medical school and Granado studying biochemistry, and they loaded up a Norton 500 and set off on a journey to discover their continent. This trip essentially determined their futures, and the experience has been caught on film by director Walter Salles in «The Motorcycle Diaries,» for which he and his crew followed the same route as the two men in what he describes as «an extreme experience.» «We were changed during the trip. Even though I often felt as if I was a part of a cinematic Babel, I got to understand my own homeland better,» says the director. «I started off as a Brazilian and ended up with the certainty that I am a Latin American. I felt as though my ‘home’ had gotten bigger.» The film, which was one of the entries at the last Cannes Film Festival, will also be screened in Athens during the Premiere Nights film festival, which runs from September 17-26, in a special tribute to Salles. This year, the festival’s 10th, a complete retrospective of the Brazilian filmmaker’s work will be shown. Armed with a romantic’s sense of adventure, sensitivity as a strong social conscience, Salles has also put his signature on landmark films such as «Central do Brasil» (for which he was awarded the Golden Bear in Berlin in 1998), «Behind the Sun» which is based on a novel by Ismail Kadare, and «Foreign Land» among other documentaries that have made a hit at international film festivals. «The Motorcycle Diaries,» however, marks a very special point in the Rio de Janeiro-born director’s filmography. A complex film that can be analyzed on many different levels, it has little to with common road movies. It is a homage to the open horizon that travel offers and to the way in which it can shape characters, ideologies and ideas. The two friends crossed a continent and gained an entire world. «It is a film about the emotional and political choices we have to make in life. It is about friendship and solidarity. It is, essentially, about discovering where you belong and what is worth fighting for,» notes the director. The research for the film took over two years to complete. Salles met with Granado, who today is 82-years-old and lives in Cuba, as well as with Guevara’s family. «We reconstructed the motorcycle trip, looking carefully for locations in Argentina, Chile and Peru, Patagonia, the Andes, the Atacama Desert, the Amazon, all the way to San Pablo and the leper colony where Guevara offered his services as a doctor.» In «The Motorcycle Diaries» the beauty of nature stands in striking contrast to the harsh conditions of life, and the wealth of impressions to the density of observations. For Salles, the film is a «rite of passage,» a journey that has to do with ethics and politics and which resulted in the birth of a great revolutionary. «When you finish reading the book,» claims the director in reference to Guevara’s journals, «you feel that you can really change the world…»

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