You know the poster. Bearded, beret-bearing bonce silhouetted on a Commie-red background, seen-it-all eyes still dreaming of a finer future. Probably next to another tatty one-sheet declaring, "Don't Walk On The Grass - Smoke It!" in the room of a student given to wearing East German Army jackets and never getting his round in.
Pop culture invariably neuters revolutionaries, reducing them to icons considered too unrealistically idealistic to work in the modern world. How refreshing, then, that Walter Salles' absorbing, amusing and moving look at the early years of revolutionary/ Communist/freedom fighter/terrorist Ernesto "Che" Guevara wears its history so lightly. This is not a film given to grand statements in the Richard Attenborough/Norman Jewison mould. Rather, it's an intimate drama played out on a widescreen scale, stunning South American scenery providing a beautiful backdrop without ever distracting from the story. Political and biographical baggage aside, it works as a buddy movie - a rousing roadtrip you'll enjoy even if you couldn't give a state-subsidised toss about Socialist ideals or world poverty.
That said, by the time Ernesto (Bernal) and Alberto (de la Serna) have trekked through Argentina, Chile and Peru on the way to Venezuela - witnessing the Indian underclass, callous Capitalism, and the horrors of a leper colony - chances are you will care more, even momentarily, about the plight of the Third World.
Bernal's Ernesto lives up to his name, prone to scowling and introspection. The superb de la Serna offers Alberto as a chancer who undercuts his friend's intensity: "You know what your problem is? Your fucking honesty!"
Based on books by Guevara and Granado - now a pensioner who appears at the end - Jose Rivera's script is arguably soft on Che, presented as a figure of Christ-like compassion hard to equate with the violent revolutionary who went on to rule Cuba with Castro (who is still in power and still accused of human-rights abuses). But The Motorcycle Diaries is about a time before compromise. It's about youth, hope, dreams and the possibility of change.
Political without preaching, soulful but not sentimental, Salles' film looks beautiful and has performances to match. Viva la revolución!