Love in the Time of Cholera


Love in the Time of Cholera

Touching and yet not touched.

(New Line) Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Liev Schreiber, Fernanda Montenegro, John Leguizamo, Laura Harring. Directed by Mike Newell

There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. The same argument cannot be translated to romance and love; sometimes, love delayed is love deepened.

Florentino Ariza (Bardem, played as a teenager by Unax Ugalde) is a well-read clerk and messenger in Venezuela in the last decade of the 19th century. He comes from a poor family but does not carry himself that way. One day, while carrying a message in the crowded marketplace, he catches a glimpse of the beautiful Fermina Daza (Mezzogiorno), daughter of a wealthy mule trader (Leguizamo).

He is smitten from that very moment. He falls deeply and hopelessly in love with her and vows to court her. His efforts are met with a gentle but firm refusal from the father, but a sympathetic aunt smuggles heart-rending, bodice-ripping love letters from the lovesick Florentino to the overwhelmed Fermina – until her father discovers what is happening and ships his anguished daughter far away until she can come to her senses. Dear old dad wears away at her until she eventually comes to believe as he does – that Florentino is beneath her. Instead, she turns her attentions and affections to Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Bratt), a handsome, charming and sophisticated medico who nurses her to health after a bout with a stomach ailment that her overprotective father had feared was cholera, a serious health hazard in 19th century Venezuela.

She ends up marrying the good doctor, leaving Florentino heartbroken. He vows to wait for his beloved to become free again, even if he has to wait 50 years for the doctor to die. Of course, the doctor takes his time in doing so. In the meantime, Venezuela crosses into the 20th century (kicking and screaming in many ways) and suffers through civil war, cholera epidemics and a host of dramatic social changes. Dr. Urbino turns out to be a bit of a playa, which devastates his naïve wife but in all honesty wasn’t unusual in Latin America at the time.

Florentino occupies his time by taking a job as a clerk for Don Leo (Elizondo), an importer of goods and eventually Florentino takes over his business when Don Leo retires. He also discovers the thrills of recreational sex thanks to the urging of his buddy Lothario (Schreiber) and embarks on a series of meaningless sexual escapades, all the while proclaiming himself a virgin because he is, as far as he is concerned, a virgin until he makes love to the woman that he loves. Still, time passes on and when the moment appears that Florentino may finally get what he has been waiting for, the question is will Fermina still want him?

This is an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel and those who have read Marquez know that it is a daunting task to adapt his work. He writes primarily in Spanish and one of the compelling things about his work is its lyricism, which often doesn’t translate well to English. Filming this in English was a tactical error on the part of the filmmakers; this is one of those movies that would have been better served by subtitles.

Another thing that doesn’t translate well is the Latino mindset. The rigid and puritanical mindset of the Latin American culture of that era made the contemporaneous Victorians look like free-love hippies by comparison, especially in regards to how young women were regarded. Men were expected to have sexual conquests and frequented prostitutes and other women of easy virtue, but women were more or less treated like possessions that were expected to arrive at their owner in pristine condition. It’s as foreign a concept to us as eating insects is.

Still, director Mike Newell has managed to make a gorgeous-looking film that captures the era nicely. Haciendas and marketplaces are chock-a-block with the colors of the tropics and the gentility of the era is also portrayed accurately. One can lose themselves in the beauty of the images here, and you might get an urge to do some exploring in the part of the world that this is set in.

The flaws of the movie are not the fault of the actors, certainly. Bardem, who would win an Oscar that year for his work in No Country for Old Men, manages to take a role that American audiences would have difficulty getting behind and making him a sympathetic, romantic figure. While we might scratch our heads about his sexual proclivities, we wind up admiring his loyalty nonetheless. The international cast has some very distinguished figures in it, such as Oscar-nominated Brazilian actress Montenegro as Florentino’s sympathetic mother. Generally, this is very well-acted.

This winds up being a movie with great intentions – to bring a work of literary genius to the screen. The story itself is as timeless as love, and just as heartbreaking. What is also heartbreaking is that the movie doesn’t succeed in its grand intentions and it really isn’t anyone’s fault, unless you want to count that Marquez is such a magnificent writer that his work doesn’t really translate well to the medium. They might have had a chance if they’d filmed it in Spanish, and perhaps an enterprising filmmaker who is used to that language might give another go at bringing this classic love story to the screen once again.

WHY RENT THIS: This is a lush, beautiful-looking film that captures the look and atmosphere of the time and place in which it’s set. The actors, particularly Bardem, do a wonderful job.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Slow-moving and a bit archaic, the motivations of Florentino may mystify modern audiences. None of the lyrical poetry of Marquez’ original novel translates well to English.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of nudity and sexuality, so keep moving if that kind of thing offend you.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno found an owl’s nest in her rented home during the shoot in Cartagena, Columbia and named the two owls after the lead characters in the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Driving Lessons