They've gotten an entertaining movie out of Gabriel García Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera." But it's also one of those epic miscalculations that Hollywood makes, every so often, to let us know that, no, they haven't necessarily read the book. Well, not all of it.
A spotty skip through a 50-year love triangle set in Colombia, it's a morally murky tale of undying love, unrepentant promiscuity, a South American "Great Gatsby" that utterly loses track of its tragedy and the big cholera metaphor at its heart.
Bells are ringing in 1930s Cartagena. An old man (Javier Bardem) rolls the naked coed off him and says that "a pretty big fish" must have died. He figures out who that was in an instant. It was the beloved doctor (Benjamin Bratt), who married the dirty old man's lifelong love (Giovanna Mezzogiorno).
But now she's available. He dresses and goes to profess his "51 years, nine months and four days" torch for her, only to be rejected.
Thus begin the flashbacks to the late 1870s, the "time of cholera" of the title. That's when Florentino first met Fermina, when her father forbids her from marrying the poor telegraph messenger who woos his "crowned goddess" with letters in purple prose. Florentino isn't taking the father's warnings seriously.
"There is no greater glory than to die for love." She is sent away, only to read his forbidden telegrams with the help of her too-saucy cousin (Catalina Moreno Sandino, terrific). He wastes away so much that his mother (the great Fernanda Montenegro) fears it is cholera. When Fermina comes down with the same lovesickness, the doctor makes his entrance, and you can see her father's greed sucking in through his crooked teeth. Here is her proper match.
Bratt, looking dapper, sophisticated and regal, is well-cast as the educated man who sets his top hat for Fermina. But Mezzogiorno starts out bland and blank-faced, no one's idea of a "love at first sight" prize.
Director Mike Newell settles on his movie's tone when he put Hector Elizondo in the role of Florentino's rich, whimsical uncle. "Love in the Time of Cholera" becomes something of a farce from the moment Elizondo makes his entrance, as Florentino drowns his lovesickness in mostly comical sexual conquests, which he tabulates and documents in his diaries.
You don't have to have read this Oprah Book Club selection to see that they've shortchanged the doctor who somehow saved the city from cholera, that Florentino's journey from stricken to sad but sexually sated is meant to be more than mere farce, and that Mezzogiorno doesn't have the charisma or sex appeal to carry her third of the movie.
With its overwrought romance and stumbling timeline and international cast (including Liev Schreiber), all speaking Spanish-accented English, this is like a Spanglish "Memoirs of a Geisha," more a marketing package than a movie.
But all that said, there's enough to make this feast worth sitting through, and best of all, make you want to read the book.
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Latin American Literature