LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA

Love in the Time of Cholera Movie Review

R, 139 min, 2007

Director: Mike Newell
Writers: Ronald Harwood (screenplay), Gabriel García Márquez (novel El amor en los tiempos del cólera)
Stars: Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt

Mike Newell’s adaptation of the internationally popular Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel Love in the Time of Cholera is a languid, plodding, pointless affair – great to look at, but lost on substance.

Javier Bardem has his second oddest haircut of 2007 (after No Country for Old Men, of course) as Florentino Ariza, a romantic young poet in 1800s Columbia who falls for Fermina Urbino (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the daughter of a powerful and protective man (John Leguizamo). When she takes ill and is saved by Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), it seems their love will be forbidden forever. So finally Florentino decides to make a go of getting over her – by sleeping with over 600 women and living a life of emotional solitude, often seducing married gals and dealing with the rage of cuckolded husbands.

I have no problem with the story, such as it is, nor particularly with the film’s physical qualities – it looks great, thanks to cinematographer Affonso Beato (All About My Mother, among the many superior earlier works); he even invokes a shot from that particular film late in this one, when the camera is actually inside the typewriter as Bardem writes a “crucial” letter to his beloved. The blame, I’m afraid, must lie with the performances, and the pacing – it’s not deliberate, it’s maliciously slow.

Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco) has been a fine director in the past. It’s the treatment of the material that must be off here. Marquez’s novel is famous all over the world, and much beloved, so either millions upon millions of readers are wrong, or Ronald Harwood’s screenplay and Newell’s direction are terribly flawed. The film is lurid, melodramatic and goes nowhere near “over-the-top” – a crucial error, as I could at least work with something like that.

I’m not sure which is the most laughable line (I still remember them days later): “Love is what we do naked,” from one of Bardem’s conquests (Laura Harring from “Mulholland Dr.”)? Or was it his next ill-fated lover’s swooning dialogue: “I will never be able to smell Turpentine without recalling this blessed day!”?!? That’s not even taking into account the comically inept love scenes, such as the woman who won’t stop talking about her dead husband, and lunges for Bardem as explosions shake the roof.

There was another infamous literary adaptation (as yet unseen by me) in the 90′s of The Scarlet Letter – it too has gone down in history as a laughable mess. I’m afraid this one joins the scrap heap as one of the worst allegedly “serious” films I’ve ever seen.

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