Love in the Time of Cholera *1/2
Directed by Mike Newell
Written by Ronald Harwood, based on the book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Benjamin Bratt as Dr. Juvenal Urbino
Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Fermina Urbino
Javier Bardem as Florentino Ariza
Marcela Mar as America Vicuña
Juan Ángel as Marco Aurelio (40’s)
John Leguizamo as Lorenzo Daza
Fernanda Montenegro as Tránsito Ariza
María Eugenia Arboleda as Gala Placidia
128 Minutes(Rated R for sexual content/nudity and brief language. )
Every Oscar season, usually in last August, I'll go to the bookstore and buy a few books that have now become some of the movies that I'll be watching for the next couple of months. I bought three this year. For September I bought Charles Baxter's wonderful book "The Feast of Love." For December, and I still have to read it, I bought "The Kite Runner." And the third book was my the melodrama "Love in the Time of Cholera," beautifully written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has a way with words that I could only dream about having. And yet, and this was very easy to do, the film makers who turned this lovely book into a movie have managed to make it into the most laughably bad love story that I've seen in a long while, with some rather truly hokey and awful performances and a decent performance by Javier Bardem (who WILL be nominated for an Oscar in 'No Country for Old Men), who was clearly trying to make something out of this poorly made film. Someone out of some wonderful material they made something just plain bad-a soap opera condensed into a rushed two hour film. Granted it is hard to take a story which spans over fifty years and place it neatly into two hours-clearly lots of detail will be skimmed over. But that is what made "Love in the Time of Cholera" such a wonderful book-the strong attention to detail, and the small one liners that were there-the delicious subtle comedy that was missing from this film, which seems to think that the story is all about two people meant to be with one another.
Bardem plays Florentino Ariza-a young boy who works in a telegraph office in last 1800's Spain. When he meets Fermina Urbino, the daughter of the overly protective Lorenzo Daza (played by a horribly miscast John Leguizamo), his whole life changes, and he decided to make his entire life all about ensuring that she will love him. She does fall for him, but her father disapproves and takes her away on a trip for her to forget about him. He tells her that at her age, love is nothing by an illusion. When she returns she realizes this and ends up marrying a rich doctor-Dr. Juvenal Urbino (played by a horribly miscast Benjamin Bratt). Florentino doesn't give up here-he decides to wait for the young doctor to die, and over the next fifty one years he numbs the pain for Fermina Urbino by taking part in over 620 affairs with various women-widows, college students, poets, etc-all while doing his best to stay in physical shape and keeping a good degree of health, just waiting for the day when he could confess his love all over again.
It's funny that I should read and see this book/movie not very long after seeing and reading "No Country for Old Men." The Coen Brothers in adapting that book kept much of the dialogue from the novel. In reading the novel the dialogue seemed rather bland and poorly written, and yet the movie (which is almost verbatim in parts) ends up becoming tense and snappy. It's all about the delivery. There were snippets of dialogue in "Love in the Time of Cholera" that were verbatim from the novel (which doesn't exactly have that much talking to begin with), and it's all just laughably bad. A scene where Fermina is about to consummate her marriage to Urbino has a moment where the doctor begins to tell her scientific stuff about what they are about to do, and she says "I don't want a medical lesson," to which he replies "This won't be a medical lesson. This will be a lesson in love." The context of the novel made this line perfectly fine, even slightly romantic, but Bratt's poor delivery just had half of the audience cracking up. It's delivery that could change source material-sometimes for better, and sometimes surely for the worst.
In the end it's Bardem that I could see was trying his best to keep things together, and he does give a passable performance. The film is also beautiful to look at visually, from the opening shot of a parrot-readers of the book will know where this begins-to just the various landscapes that we see throughout. This is a visual treat, but sadly the rest is just an over the top love story that is missing the essence of the novel. It's a hard novel to adapt, and I can commend the film makers behind this for trying, but sometimes it's just better to leave things alone-what's the point in making a few dollars if in the end you cannot do justice to something so beautiful?