Based on Che Guevara's boyhood memoirs about motorbiking through South America in the 1950s with his best friend, director Walter Salles' road-trip pic sets out to humanize the Communist revolutionary. ''Che is a character who is so demonized in the United States,'' laments the Brazilian director. But he was an adored subject at the Sundance Film Festival, where Salles' film was snapped up by Focus Features for a cool $4 million, an impressive Park City payout for a Spanish-language movie.
Wooed by Gael Garcia Bernal's fine work in 2001's ''Amores Perros'' -- ''He is the most gifted actor of his generation, full stop,'' says Salles -- the director tapped the almond-eyed young star to play Guevara, whose seeds of political zeal were sown when the 23-year-old med student trekked through Argentina, Peru, and Chile, falling in love with Latin America's forgotten poor along the way. ''In Mexico, you grow up with stories of Che, and I always found him a great inspiration,'' says Bernal. And now, according to Salles, moviegoers are leaving early screenings of the film similarly inspired. ''People tell me, I want to go on the road, I want to experiment, I want to trespass the boundaries I've respected. If a film is able to generate that kind of reaction, we who took part in the adventure of making it couldn't be happier.''
What's at stake Possibly a Latin American filmmaking boom. ''The fact that 'Amores Perros' and 'Y Tu Mamá También' were well received opened a number of doors,'' says Salles. ''I hope after this we'll see more films coming from our end of the world.''