The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finds itself in a bind. The
Spanish language film The Motorcycle Diaries is ineligible for this
year's foreign-language Academy Award, not because of the language, nor
because the film offends the sensitivities of Hollywood. Indeed, quite the
contrary. Executive producer Robert Redford's Motorcycle Diaries is
the story of the political awakening of young Ernesto Che Guevara, the most
salient 20th-century icon of the Left whose Jesus-like face peers at us from
countless posters and T-shirts around the world.
No, the problem for the Academy is not the subject matter of the film; it is
simply that the Academy has not kept up with "globalization." Academy rules
for the best foreign-language category require that a film be submitted by
the country in which it originated. Motorcycle Diaries, however, was
filmed in five different countries with international financial backing and
an international cast and crew, and is thus ineligible for consideration.
How Oscar's heart must break. The quality of the production alone should
certainly qualify the film for serious consideration for any cinematographic
award, while its content earns it honorable mention in the growing catalogue
of leftist Hollywood propaganda.
Motorcycle Diaries tells the story of a trip made in 1952 by the then
twenty-four year old Guevara and a friend, both middle class Argentine
students who set out on a motorcycle from Buenos Aires in the south all the
way to Caracas, Venezuela at the northern end of the continent. The
narrative voice is that of the young Guevara speaking from his diaries and
the letters home he wrote along the way. The film is a picaresque tale, the
escapades of loveable rascals who live by their wits while traveling in a
country characterized by hypocrisy, a genre in Western literature that has
popular characters from Henry Fielding's Tom Jones to Mark Twain's
Guevara and his companion roam the vast expanse of South America, from the
Argentine pampas to the snows and fjord-like lakes of the Southern Andes,
then up the length of Chile through the Atacama Desert and the high Andes of
the old Inca Empire, ending on the great rivers of the Amazon Basin. The
magnificence of South America's landscape is matched in the film by the
people the travelers meet along the way, vividly and accurately presented in
their regional variety and diversity of human types. One sees the
desperation and nobility of poor miners on the bleak altiplano of the high
Andes; the patient, gentle descendents of the Inca masses in their
distinctive dress and speaking their soft native Quechua or in their halting
simple Spanish; and ordinary people, in this case medical personnel, who are
dedicated to their profession and to the people they serve.
All of this skilled cinematographic art is mobilized to relate Guevara's
ideological odyssey and to depict the purity of his motives and the inherent
nobility of his character. Guevara's role in Communism is played down
throughout. His introduction to Marxist ideology is limited to only two
scenes in which Guevara is shown absorbed in Jose Mariatequi's Seven
Essays on the Peruvian Reality, a book that ties all the evils of the
long and exploitative history of Peru, and by extension all of Latin
America, into one seamless testament according to the teachings of Karl
The film concludes with Guevara and his friend working as volunteers in a
leper colony deep in the Amazon jungle. The dramatic high point is reached
when Guevara defies convention, as well as his sometimes debilitating asthma
and the swift currents of a river, by swimming across to the other side to
spend his last night in the colony with the shunned lepers. "He's coming to
us!" says one patient when Guevara's features are discernible in the
darkness. Thus is the young Che, a man of immense empathy and courage,
willing to risk death in his commitment to the despised and downtrodden of
the world. Only at the end of the film does a brief text on a black screen
inform the audience that Guevara went on to become a physician and a
revolutionary and was murdered by the CIA in the Bolivian jungle.
"Murder" is indeed an appropriate term to use when discussing Ernesto
Guevara. Despite what Motorcycle Diaries would lead a naïve audience
to believe, Guevara was not the Christ-like Lamb of God offering himself as
a sacrifice for a suffering humanity. He was one of the many ruthless,
violent fanatics in the global wave of murders committed on a massive scale
during the 20th century in the name of Communism, a holocaust in which some
100 million people worldwide lost their lives. The real story of Ernesto
Guevara's place in history, and the deaths for which he was responsible, is
told by Cuban journalist Luis Ortega, who knew Guevara personally, in his
book Yo Soy El Che, by Daniel James in Che Guevara: A
Biography and by Armando M. Lago, author of the soon to be released
Cuba: The Human Cost of Social Revolutions.
Lago lists by name fourteen people personally murdered by Guevara while
fighting in the Sierra Madre as a part of Fidel Castro's 1956-57 guerilla
struggles to seize power in Cuba. Once in power, Guevara became one of the
central figures of Castro's dictatorship with 10 confirmed ordered
executions in Santa Clara in 1959 and another 156 at La Cabana Fortress
Prison. He was also responsible for several thousand more during the first
years of the revolution. Guevara was also responsible for those killed in
the guerrilla uprisings he sponsored in Latin America, and in which he
participated after he had left Cuba. No one knows how many people Guevara
personally killed, ordered killed, or who died as a result of his actions.
Lago believes the number for Cuba alone is 4,000.
It is said that Guevara was proud of shooting his enemies in the back of the
head. He was also vocal in his hatred, and candid in his use of hate as a
driving force. "Hatred is an element in the struggle," he said, "unbending
hatred for the enemy which pushes a human being beyond his natural
limitations…." "A people without hate cannot triumph against the adversary."
During the Cuban missile crisis Guevara pushed for war, since a nuclear
holocaust, he believed, would purge the world of evil and make way for the
rise of a new and better order.
Guevara's whole life as a revolutionary was not one of Christ-like selfless
sacrifice, and the distortion depicted in The Motorcycle Diaries, is
only another entry in the long gallery of leftist propaganda. Since Redford'
s film so clearly reflects the spirit of Hollywood, it is a shame, for them
at least, that the anachronistic rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences excludes this loving and dishonest homage to a Marxist icon
from consideration for Hollywood's highest honor.