Love in the Time of Cholera is a gorgeous disaster of a film. The movie is filled with some rich visuals and scenery, but that is about the only good quality that can be said of it. Director Mike Newell, after making one of 2005’s best films with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, turns right around and makes what is easily the weakest Oscar bait picture of the fall. Where could things have gone so wrong? Newell brilliantly brought the fourth installment of J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series to the screen, but in adapting this Nobel Prize Winning novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he fails miserably.
The film is about Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) and his endless love obsession with Fermina Daza. As young adults, the two are in love, but Florentino is just a poor messenger boy and Fermina’s father (John Leguizamo) wants her to marry someone wealthy. If the name Leguizamo sounds familiar, he voiced Sid in Ice Age. His acting here is so over-the-top it makes his role as an animated sloth look more sincere and believable. In favor of her father, she breaks Florentino’s heart and instead marries the noble Dr. Juveneal Urbino, Benjamin Bratt (2005’s The Great Raid), who is fighting the good fight against the cholera disease.
The movie is amateurishly written and directed and so exploitative that you wonder if Paul Verhoeven really directed it. You read right, there is quite a bit of sex and nudity in the film, including a clear shot of Javier Bardem holding his penis in his hands. It doesn’t even take long for the viewer to realize what they are getting themselves into. The opening scene involves an elderly man on a ladder getting bit by a parrot followed by an overacted fall to his death. As his wife comes over to help him he has just enough breath to whimsically declare his love for her and snap his head back faster than any really dying man possibly could.
After hearing so much about Bardem’s performance as a psychopathic killer in No Country For Old Men, I wonder how he was able to portray such an enigmatic character so well in that film, and fail to impress in Love in the Time of Cholera with a much more simplistic, hopeless romantic. Florentino never once deserves an audience to cheer him on. Instead we pity or laugh at him. He is a grown man that has the emotions of a girl and cries to his mother whenever he even thinks about Fermina. When a man loses his dignity this early in the film, it’s hard to keep caring about him. After a few years of waiting for Fermina to return, he decides to sleep with as many women as possible to try and forget about her. The film tells us he sleeps with over 600 women, and is still at it as an old man, which is funny considering he promised to save his virginity for Fermina. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him knowing that? As for those women, they are treated like Bond girls and whether they are single, married, or wearing chastity belts, they are going to end up in bed with Florentino. They all seem so desperate to jump on him it’s as if Tom Tykwer’s main character from Perfume sprayed his perfected aroma all over Florentino’s body.
Newell is just as much to blame for this as Bardem is. In adapting the screenplay, there’s a lot of stuff that should have been added and even more that should have been left out. He makes his biggest mistake by neglecting any setup scenes between Florentino and Fermina and thus the viewer can’t sense any chemistry between them. The one thing I just couldn’t understand above all else is why Newell decided to add so much campiness to so many scenes. For example, there’s a scene that only briefly depicts the war that is supposedly occurring in Florentino’s area and his village is being riddled with cannon fire. His widowed neighbor, who is about his age, comes to stay at his place because a cannon ball smashed through her’s. The scene turns bad as her panic behavior becomes laughable and then before we know it the two of them are having sex as the walls are still crashing down around them and we see his mother smiling as she listens. Are we really supposed to be taking any of this seriously.
To be honest, I was reserving a spot on my Top 10 list for this film. Needless to say I am utterly disappointed. Reflecting upon Love in the Time of Cholera, I am reminded of one of my favorite films of last year that revolved around the disease, The Painted Veil, also adapted from a novel. It’s so easy to see why that film worked so well compared to this one. That’s a film about two people coming together under dire circumstances. The dialogue is wonderful and never cheesy, the acting is exquisite, and the ending doesn’t turn out the way you expect. Those are all traits that Love in the Time of Cholera is lacking. The biggest one though is that the makers of The Painted Veil seemed to care about their film while the makers of Love in the Time of Cholera seem to think this is some sort of joke.
|Release Date: November 16, 2007
Rated: R for sexual content/nudity and brief language.
Running Time: 138 min.
Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Javier Bardem, Marcela Mar, Gina Bernard Forbes
Director: Mike Newell
Screenplay: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (novel), Ronald Harwood
Studio: New Line Cinema
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