HPPUB MOVIE REVIEWs of The Motorcycle Diaries, Yes, The Edukators,  Lord of War , Machuca


Title:  The Motorcycle Diaries

Release Date:  2004

Nationality and Language: Argentina and Mexico, Spanish

Running time: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company:  Focus

Director; Writer:


Cast:   Rodrigo de la Serna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mia Maestro, Mercedes Moran, Jorge Chiarella

Technical: HDCAM and film, standard aspect ratio, some BW

Relevance to HPPUB site:  “communism”

Review:  In 1974 I intended to make the trip to Peru, but got a job with NBC and moved into New York City instead. In fact, I did celebrate that event with a Labor Day weelend jaunt to Mexico City and the surrounding museums. I have never made it down there. A friend did in 2001 (hiking the trial to Machu Picchu while I was being laid off!)


This film shows stunning scenery of much of South America, from Buenos Aires to the Argentine pampas, to the Chilean Coast, the lifeless and bone-dry Atacama Desert, to Machu Picchu itself, Lima, and the Amazon wilderness. I would have liked to seen Lake Titicacca and the pre-Inca Tiahuanoco ruins.


But the story is important, too. Biochemist Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), about to become 30, and 23-year-old medical student Ernesto Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) make the 8000-mile journey over South America in 1952 on a breaking-down motorcycle, traveling almost like a male couple.  Guevara is asthmatic, and there is a chilling scene near the end of the film where he has an attack, and then at the end when he swims the Amazon it seems that he may have one but does not. Other than that, he is strong and vigorous, and kind—an almost perfect person, at first far removed from politics. The object of their journey is a leper colony in the Amazon (and the movie makes a geographical error in getting them from Lima to the Amazon without going over the mountains). The politics creeps in gradually, and out of necessity. At one point, Che is pulled out of a labor pool to work in an Andean copper mine, to throw a fit. Soon he comments about how Incan civilization has been sundered, and begins to notice the abuse of the peasants, often with many kids, by landowners. It seems as if “class warfare” is inevitable. Of course, Che’s subsequent record may not conform to such simplistic ideology,  There is an interesting interchange with the nuns who run the leper hospital, when they won’t let the young men eat unless they attend services—those be the rules with self-righteous religion and “faith based” charity. A few of the scenes of the leprosy victims are quite graphic, with missing fingers and disfigurements.


There is also a 1999 video “Che Guevara: A Guerilla to the End” (54 min). 


Yes (2005, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Sally Potter—the screenplay by her is available at e-commerce sites from Newmarket Press, R, 99 min) is another movie that mixes various political dissidences (both Communism and radical Islam) and goes to their sanctums but never lingers much. First, let me be facetious about a movie named this. (It is not “Yeth!”)  The movie is in the style of an Elizabethean play (it does not have to be Shakespeare), with the dialogue in iambic pentameter, starting with the housekeeper’s soliloquy over a clean toilet bowl. That device gives the movie the effect of a modern Shakespeare movie, all right, without being overly stilted.  “She” (Joan Allen) was born in the Middle East, and works in London as a biologist, apparently trying to justify the idea that life begins at conception. (The movie does not linger at the opportunity to delve into abortion as a political issue.) She is married to a rich British politician Anthony (Sam Neill)—there is one dinner scene with the two of them that is deliciously framed with furniture and white Christmas lights in the background in a way that reminds one of La Dolce Vita. She develops an affair with a Lebanese cook and waiter, He (Simon Abkarian). Yes, there is that one scene where she undresses him gently, though the intensity of the scene seems to diminish quickly. This leads to a bit of a road movie, with excursions to Beirut and particularly Cuba, with some fascinating visuals (some of it in digital video). There are lots of pseudo-political discussions in verse, such as one in a garage where He tells her poetically that there are no innocent victims, that Islam is tough but that it is just and fair. They trade tirades about being terrorists and imperialists, and about living off of forbidden fruits. Potter started filming this right after 9/11.


The Edukators (“Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei”) (2004, IFC/Y3, dir. Hans Weingartner, Germany, R, 127 min)  is a sensational crime comedy with obvious political overtones. The film is long (movies directly from Germany usually are) and wants us to learn our lesson and perhaps eat our vegetables, but the three characters are so appealing that we are tantalized by the lecture and posturing. Jan (Daniel Bruhl – who actually is from Spain) and Peter (Stipe Erceg (from Croatia) play two roommates who burglarize rich people’s houses and arrange the furniture and belongings to make political “educational” statements. When Peter’s girl friend Jule (Julia Jentsch) is evicted from an apartment after being saddle with a 100000 euro debt for totaling a rich man’s Mercedes in a rear-end accident when she was uninsured, they decide to burgle the man Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner). Jan and Julia go back and Julia gets caught when Hardenberg returns home. The trio kidnaps Hardenberg and take him to a cabin in the Bavarian Alps. Perhaps there is a bit of Stockholm Syndrome here, but the captors start to bond with Hardenberg as he softens to their political motives. Hardbenberg had been an SDS activist once himself. But when he turned 30, he needed security and stability. Then came the career. It seems that getting rich is OK if it is justified by wife and family. “I didn’t make the rules, I just play by them,” he says. At one point, he admits to a certain belief in Darwinian style meritocracy.


Now here I can relate to my own experience with the indignation of the far Left early in my adulthood, as I was “coming out” for the second time. I had dabbled in 1972 a bit with the “People’s Party of New Jersey” (Benjamin Spock was to be their presidential candidate), which started with lettuce boycotts and started to talk more aggressive. “Why do we have to have capitalism?”  Well, not to take political indoctrination too far here, one reason is that it takes self-interest to produce goods and services that make people’s lives better and in the long run raise the standard of living. Inevitably, some people will be “better,” but of course there is a problem that unearned wealth feeds on itself unless its owners put it back into the world for productive use. It’s always seemed to me that the morality of this comes back not to redistribution of wealth among classes, but on allocating responsibility for the disadvantaged and the vulnerable to each individual person as a prerequisite for having “merit.”


The characters at the end will have a strange epiphany. It is a bit confusing, perhaps, but it seems that the two men may at least be bisexual (especially Jan, who at one point looks ready to be taken apart by Peter after he has already had Julia). Hardenberg gives a handwritten letter for forgive the debt, but then it seems he will not keep his word. But the two boys, nice and attractive as they are, have one more ace up their sleeves, to go to some Island like Elbe and destroy some satellite dishes upon which European Union telecommunications depend. So even this film has a hint of real warning about what could happen. 


Lord of War (2005, Lions Gate/Ascendant/Saturn, dir. Andrew Niccol, 122 min, R) is another one of those “large” and ambitious indie films about big moral ideas. The opening wide screen shot is filled with brass shell casings, and with the narrator/protagonist Ukranian Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) doing math, calculating that 11 out of 12 people in the world remain to be armed. At the end, he says he doesn’t kill people, he just helps others do what they want. Would this be the Second Amendment in our country?  His arms career spans twenty years, although none of the major characters seem to age on camera over the two decades from 1982 to 2001. The film delivers his payoff in late spring 2001, and denies the opportunity to move on to 9/11. Orlov enlists his kid brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) and is chased by Interpol cop Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke). He marries Ava  (Bridget Moynahan). The film is a docudrama, covering various periods of history, including the early activities of Osama bin Laden, and then the fall of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day 1991. Of course, then, arms dealers have the great opportunities with those left driftless by the end of the Cold War. At one point, Jack claims that small arms are the greatest weapon of mass destruction, and the film seems to miss the opportunity to explore the danger in trafficking radiological materials or bio-weapons, but the money, after all, was in selling to warlords. The film is supposedly a true story. Near the end, the film uses Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” as a kind of requiem and epiphany, as had Edukators.

Machuca (2004, Menemsha/Studio Canal Madrid, dir. Andres Wood, 121 Min, sug PG-13, Chile/Spain) is an epic film about the political turmoil in Chile when right wing Augusto Pinochet Ugarte stages a violent coup to replace far left socialist/Marxist Salvador Allende. The upheaval is seen through the eyes of two schoolboys, one rich and one poor. Pedro Machuca is the name of a 12-year-old barrio boy (played by Ariel Mateluna) allowed to attend a rich-class Catholic school when the headmaster priest Father McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran) admits poor kids for free from the Santiago shantytowns as part of Catholic good works and charity (probably also to win converts for the Church). One morning a boy in front of him Gonzalo Infante (Matias Quer) helps him cheat on an English grammar test. They quickly become close friends, to the chagrin of other boys, who sometimes are suspicious. There are some intimate sports scenes and a shower scene that shows life as more intimate than would be appropriate in a modern American school. Pedro’s older sister (Manuella Martelli) teases the boys with some kissing and intimacy, but in time the boys get wind of political storm to come. A big foreshadowing occurs as a “PTA meeting” at the school where some white parents complain about opening of the schools to latinos and “Commie” motives; the political relevance today is that education is a major equalizer, as evidenced by today’s USA policy of “no child left behind.”  In one of Gonzalo’s visits to his friend, he gags when he sees an outdoor privy (I once did), and then later is told that he will grow up to own his dad’s company while his friend Pedro will always be a janitor cleaning out turds.  The political coup, starting on TV, is violent, and soldiers take the school over from the church. The barrios boys are expelled, and this includes Pedro (the teacher addresses him as “Darling”). Gonzalo tries to visit his friend in the shantytown and runs from the soldiers back to his own privileged background. Despite Hispanic-sounding names, the upper class people (of European descent, sometimes from Spain itself) are pure white, often blond. This common in South America, Mexico, and in  the American southwest. The film winds up being a strong political commentary about privilege and family values, and how moral balance at the individual level can only follow some kind of basic social justice among different classes of people. The photography often uses muted colors and tends to make Santiago look like a drab place, even in the wealth sections, despite the Andes nearby. One historical irony is that the Pinochet coup took place on September 11, 1973 (28 years before the more notorious 9/11), which was late winter in Chile.      


Related reviews: The Constant Gardner


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