Adaptation of Marquez Masterpiece Marred by Absence of Magical Realism
Compromises are in order whenever a novel is being brought to the big screen, especially a 368-page saga spanning 50 years, which is what we have in the case of Love in the Time of Cholera. Written by of Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1985, this imaginative tale of unrequited love is a literary toured force which likens an enduring crush to a crippling disease on the order of cholera.
It is expected that in condensing a broad best seller into a movie some central characters, major themes and pivotal events might have to be conflated, distilled or eliminated entirely in service of the cinematic medium. However, director Mike Newell (Harry Potter 4) had an additional challenge to confront when it came to adapting Marquez here. For the Colombian author is closely associated with magical realism, a style of prose popular with Latin American writers, and marked by plotlines grounded in reality offset by surreal flights of fancy.
Unfortunately, Newell’s relatively-mundane overhaul of the book fails to reflect any of the original work’s fusion of the everyday with the otherworldly. The upshot is that, excised of its evocative aspects, Love in the Time of Cholera lacks charm and reads about the same as your typical romance novel with a hunky Fabio look-a-like splashed across the cover.
The story is set in the City of Cartagena, Marquez’s hometown, and revolves around a classic love triangle. The fun starts at a funeral which transpired about a half-century or so after the picture’s actual beginning. The practical point of departure of this otherwise chronological adventure is 1879, which is when a lowly clerk/would be poet Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) first encounters Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiomo), a blooming beauty with a wealthy, overprotective father (John Leguizamo).
Despite the object of his affection’s initial indifference, Florentino professes his undying devotion (“I have discovered the reason for my existence.”), and proceeds to wear the poor girl down with the persistence of a telemarketer. Soon, the two start swapping notes and sharing stolen moments together till mean daddy Daza catches wind of their puppy love liaison.
He forces Fermina to end her fling with Florentino before pressuring her into first entertaining the overtures of dashing Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), a much-preferred suitor from the upper-class. She does accept the doctor’s proposal, but this development only turns Florentino into a scary stalker.
Not even the Urbino family’s moving overseas can discourage the pigheaded protagonist from impatiently awaiting, for decades on end, the return of the woman he’s convinced is really meant for him. Over the intervening years, he always considers himself still a virgin because he never gives his heart to any of the 622 sexual conquests he carefully seduces, abandons, and records in his little black book.
Love in the Time of Cholera is almost laughable, since it asks the viewer to buy into Florentino’s patently ridiculous rationalization and into the idea that he somehow remained ever faithful to Fermina as the number of notches on his busy bedpost mounted. Consequently, this sorry interpretation of Marquez, substituting serial coupling and uncoupling and gratuitous nudity for spirituality has merely reduced his masterpiece into a titillating, superficial soap opera.
Love in the Time of Cholera
Fair (1 star)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and brief profanity.
Running time: 139 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema