Movie review: Don't waste your time for 'Cholera'

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 2007 - 4:01 PM

"Love in the Time of Cholera" might be the most frustrating adaptation of a beloved novel since David Lynch's "Dune." Watching the dull, diligent film, I couldn't help feeling that Gabriel García Márquez's generation-spanning romance had been filmed in the wrong language.

"Love in the Time of Cholera" might be the most frustrating adaptation of a beloved novel since David Lynch's "Dune." Watching the dull, diligent film, I couldn't help feeling that Gabriel García Márquez's generation-spanning romance had been filmed in the wrong language.

English director Mike Newell has done well with magic ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") and realism ("Donnie Brasco"), but South American-style magical realism eludes him. The story cries out for an Almodóvar, an Iñárritu or a Cuarón in the director's chair and a Spanish-speaking cast.

Or at least one with a consensus on the proper accent, unlike this movie's international crew. Dialogue among Spain's Javier Bardem, Italy's Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Brazil's Fernanda Montenegro, Colombia's John Leguizamo and Catalina Sandino Moreno, California's Benjamin Bratt and Liev Schreiber, and New York's Hector Elizondo becomes a serious sonic distraction.

Bardem plays Florentino Ariza, a romantic to the core, living in early 20th-century Colombia. He falls in love as a young man with pretty, shy Fermina Daza (Mezzogiorno), is spurned, and spends the next five decades yearning for her. Working as a clerk, he spends his weekends composing love letters for illiterate customers to give expression to his feelings.

He also beds literally hundreds of women, promiscuity being the best balm for a broken heart. When Fermina's physician husband dies, the aged Florentino presents himself at the funeral, expecting that she will be as eager to resume their old relationship as he is. Imagine his surprise when she requires some persuading.

The film looks great -- Brazilian cinematographer Affonso Beato's location work brings out a jungle of color values. Ronald Harwood's screenplay struggles valiantly to condense a 348-page novel into 138 minutes of screen time, and fails. The upshot is a movie that feels both thin and bogged down in minutiae.

The ecology of the story, the interaction between characters that echoes over generations, never comes to life. Players are hustled on and off the stage so briskly that some characters' entrance scenes rub shoulders with their exits. A wiser course might have been to hack out a subplot that could comfortably fill two hours and do justice to it.

Bardem is a world-class actor in a tough, poorly dramatized part. Despite his entertaining little-old-man shtick, we don't get much sense of the lovesickness -- the cholera -- that infects his soul. There's plenty of flesh exposed here, but no erotic spark. Because the theme is undying love, sentimental people might clasp this film to their bosoms, but they'll be projecting onto it virtues it doesn't possess.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

  • LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA

    1½ out of 4 stars

    Rating: R For Sexual Content/nudity and Brief language.

    The setup: A lovesick Colombian clerk (Javier Bardem) pines for his heart's desire (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) for half a century.

    What works: The lush cinematography.

    What doesn't: The overambitious script, which tries to hold onto too much of the sprawling novel.

    Great line: Bardem admits to his long-ago love that he has been unfaithful to her, but never disloyal. Try that one at home, guys.

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