Thursday, December 13, 2007
Movie Review: Love in the Time of Cholera
A while back, Maty and I went to see Mike Newell's film adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez's novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. I was eager to see the film having been a fan of Márquez ever since my college days, when I read No One Writes to the Colonel (Coronel no tiene quien le escriba) for a literature class.
The story takes place in Cartagena, Colombia in the 19th century, and relates the tale of Florentino Ariza (played by Javier Bardem) and Fermina Urbino (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Florentino espies Fermina while delivering a telegraph to her father, Lorenzo Daza (John Leguizamo), and is thunderstruck. Hopeless romantic that he is, Florentino devotes his life to loving Fermina, in spite of the disapproval of her father, her eventual rejection, and her 50 year marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). Florentino never forsakes his love and proclaims himself to her again on the day of her husband's funeral.
The novel, first published in 1985, is a sweeping epic told in Márquez's signature style. (Márquez is considered one of the pioneers of the "magical realism" literary movement). The test of any novel is its ability to create and maintain its own unique universe, and there are few (if any) modern writers that have mastered the art like Márquez. His narrative, from the opening sentence to Florentino's one word proclamation ending the novel, wraps the reader in an unrelenting spell. It invokes the slow-paced South American life, tinged with horror and squalor, but also heavy with complex beauty and a faith in the righteousness of unforeseen outcomes.
Watching the film, it is obvious that Newell holds the novel in deep reverence. And one must, at the very least, tip one's hat to the ambition required at the attempt. But, alas, even granting allowance for the limitations of the medium, this film falls short.
In his attempt to capture the languorous pacing of the novel, Newell seems to have forgotten that his viewers need something to look toward. Márquez's sense of inevitability is completely missing, and the viewer is left to wonder if there is a point. The characters are so thinly defined that they evoke no sympathy. Rather, they come across as absurd or ridiculous; especially, Florentino, who seems more of a pathetic and hopeless milquetoast than a tortured poet.
But the film's real flaw is that Newell apparently did not have enough discipline when it came to editing. Rather than omit less important plot elements for the sake of improving the development of others, Newell attempts to include too many of them. For example, Florentino pens love letters for lovers as a way of paying homage to love (and to earn some extra scratch). At one point, he writes letters for both parties in a relationship, and is later discovered and acknowledged by the happy couple who go so far as to name him as their child's godfather. In the novel, the annecdote is related almost in passing, just another element in the flow of life. In the film, Newell awkwardly inserts the incident, telling the tale through dialog, assigning it a disproportionate and misleading significance.
It's not that I felt bilked, watching this film. An honest effort was made and there are no insulting simplifications to theme or motif. But, like so many films before it, Love in the Time of Cholera simply cannot attain the peaks set for it by the novel. The film is a valiant effort that just doesn't work.