Love in the Time of Cholera
Directed by Mike Newell
Written by Ronald Harwood, based on the novel by Gabriel García Márquez
Starring: Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and Benjamin Bratt
Love in the Time of Cholera” is a textbook example of why it is difficult to adapt books into movies. The trailer for “Love in the Time of Cholera” makes the movie look like a generic “epic romance.” While the trailer is a pretty accurate representation of the film, the actual movie is far less epic and far more vulgar with copious amounts of nudity and sexual innuendos.
“Love in the Time of Cholera,” based on Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, follows the lives of Florentino Ariza (played by Javier Bardem) and Fermina Urbino (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the love of Florentino’s life. As a young clerk, Florentino falls in love with Fermina at first sight, and the two young lovers proceed to exchange letters with each other. Fermina’s father discovers the clandestine courtship and separates the lovers by taking Fermina away. When Fermina returns, she spurns Florentino’s advances and instead marries the suave Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). Florentino, however, does not lose hope and decides to wait until Juvenal’s death to win Fermina over. Will true love prevail? How will Florentino deal with the agony of seeing Fermina married to another man? Why does Fermina marry the doctor? Is this beginning to sound too much like a bad soap opera narration?
It is difficult to pinpoint precisely how and why “Cholera” didn’t quite work. None of the performances were particularly memorable. Many of the characters’ motivations, beliefs, and actions were rather unbelievable as portrayed in the movie. We are led to believe that Florentino, a mousy, slouched-over man with a bushy, unbecoming mustache, is able to seduce so many women simply because his mournful disposition (as a result of his love for Fermina) makes him appear sympathetic and harmless. Bardem’s Florentino comes off as constantly moping and it amazes me that women were seduced, instead of frightened off by the character.
Additionally, the chemistry between Fermina and Florentino is virtually non-existent, perhaps because their relationship is primarily based on their letters to each other. And the only letters that we see in the movie are hackneyed and generic. The chemistry between Fermina and Juvenal fares slightly better, though at the end of the movie, the nature of their love and relationship is still unclear. Fermina frequently complains that their relationship is full of difficulties. Though we do see conflicts, they are either quickly resolved or completely abandoned and ignored.
In terms of continuity, Mezzogiorno’s Fermina ages a la Star Wars’s] Padme Admidala. Fermina looks around 20 or 30 years old through most of the film, while Bardem’s Florentino ages exponentially and dons an unpleasant mustache for over half of the movie.
Fermina describes Florentino as a shadow, and “Love in the Time of Cholera” is just that — a shadow of a potentially great film.