Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch:
‘I (Heart) Huckabees,’ ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Nov. 11, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Walter Salles’s new biography of the early life of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, titled The Motorcycle Diaries, has opened in Spokane and I hope is opening in the areas of the diocese that have large numbers of Hispanics who can enjoy its use of the Spanish language.

This expansive film that beautifully covers South America from South to North is a coming of age journey of Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Berna). The beauty of our continent to the South is spectacular. The story of two young medical students meeting the ordinary people of their continent is thoughtful, poignant, and challenging.

Upfront for English speakers, I need to tell you that the subtitles sometimes move fast. But it is well-worth seeing if you can get beyond the subtitles.

Ernesto, 23 and Albeto, 29 in 1952 decide to take an adventure across South America on a 1939 Norton motorcycle. They head south from Buenos Aires after saying good-bye to Ernesto’s fairly wealthy family. They ride “The Mighty One” across the plains of Argentina toward the mountains of Pategonia. They stop at Miramar to visit Ernesto’s upper-class girlfriend. We see her family does not approve of Ernesto’s more modest background. She gives him $15 in American money to buy her some clothes in Miami. This $15 plays a very symbolic role during the rest of their journey.

Across Patagonia into Chile they find inventive if less than truthful ways of getting food and having the Norton fixed after numerous spills. In one village they are run out of town after Ernesto responds to the beauty of a local woman who is married. The irony is that it is Alberto who is always chasing the women during the journey.

One very moving scene takes place after the Norton has died and they are walking. They meet the poorest of the poor seeking to get jobs at the huge Anaconda Mine in the desolate desert of Chile.

For sheer beauty, their visit to Cuzco, Peru and the monumental Inca city of Michu Picchu is breathtaking.

The last fourth of the film is a three-week stay at the leper colony of San Pablo on the Amazon in Peru. Here the two doctor interns learn to minister to the 600 patients separated from the staff by the river. They refuse to wear gloves when they learn that contact is not infectious. They rebel against going to Sunday Mass before receiving the afternoon meal. With love three lepers bring meals to the slightly ostracized interns who mother superior says “won’t feed their souls first.”

The dance scene on Ernesto’s birthday with all the staff is magnificent. I’m not sure a young nun in 1952 would dance with the jaunty Alberto, but it is absolutely wonderful cinema.

The film ends with the two best friends separating in Caracas.

Rodrigo de la Serna is perfect as the lovable Alberto. The very popular Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal is the right actor to play the brooding saint-like role of a historic figure whose name and image ring the globe.

If you like history and wonder how famous people become the people we know them as, The Motorcycle Diaries is made for you. If you really only care about the “road” story of two young men awaking to the possibilities of life, it also is a film for you.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates The Motorcycle Diaries R, because of language. The U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Motorcycle Diaries A-III – adults.

*****

Long ago, when I was majoring in philosophy at St. Thomas College Seminary in Kenmore, near Seattle, we were allowed to attend a lecture by the well-known French Christian existentialist Gabriel Marcel at Seattle University. I don’t remember a word of the talk, but I knew he was a contemporary of Sartre and all those dark French existentialists.

Well, the quirky director David 0. Russell, who gave us the 1999 film Three Kings (which I liked very much), is playing with our minds in what is supposed to be a comedy about existentialism, called I (Heart) Huckabees.

The characters in the film represent philosophic points of view rather than living, breathing human beings. At times I found I (Heart) Huckabees artificial, slow, boring, and hollow. Rarely did I find my self chuckling at the incredulities of the philosophical set-ups.

Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is a quirky environmentalist who is fighting the expansion of a Huckabee large-box-store into a nature preserve in the L.A. area. He somehow sells out to a shamelessly cynical executive of the Huckabee chain, Brad Stand (Jude Law), in the hopes of saving some wetlands.

Meanwhile, three disparate events, including meeting a very tall African from the Sudan, cause Albert to hire Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian Jaffe (Lily Tomlin), husband-and-wife existential detectives. They each expound at various times a philosophy that says, on the one hand, we are all connected, and another, that emphasizes our separation. A French pupil of the Jaffes’, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), appears later in the movie to uphold a complete form of nihilism that makes St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul look like a trip to Disneyland.

There is lots of anger and people punching each other with rubber balls. In the small parts we find fine actors like Tippi Hedren (from Hitchcock’s The Birds), Talia Shire (from Rocky, who is Jason Schwartzman's mother in real life and in the movie as well), and Jean Smart (from TV’s Designing Women). But all the acting is pushed to the extreme for so-called comedic effect. So actors’ talent is subservient to the director’s creative vision that seems to be very idiosyncratic.

In all of the mishmash of I (Heart) Huckabees, the best actor is Mark Wahlberg, playing a fireman, Tommy Corn, who is obsessed about the power of the oil companies and even rides to fires on his bike. (Because of L.A. traffic jams sometimes he arrives before the fire truck.) He is the most likable character.

Director Russell is making fun of powerful corporations, youth, material things, and how easy it is for us to sell out on our principles. His scene where Albert is invited to the Christian family who has taken in the tall Sudanese African mocks their hypocrisy and judgment of others.

Several times in the film characters ask “What’s it all mean?,” which I suppose connects with the existential theme.

I (Heart) Huckabees has done well in its opening in large cities on the East and the West coast. My suspicion is that for some, this is a very hip movie. But for many others, the questions will be, “What does it mean? And why did I ever come to this movie?”

The Motion Picture Association of America rates I (Heart) Huckabees R, for raunchy language and a sex scene. The U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates I (Heart) Huckabees A-III – adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews frequently appear in the Cheney Free Press.)


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