Based on the exquisite novel by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera has all the ingredients of a scrumptious historical romance: exotic settings, beautiful costumes, sweeping landscapes, and cultural richness. Unfortunately, even at 139 minutes, the film feels rushed and incomplete.
Mostly told in flashback, the story tells of a poor telegram worker named Florentino (Bardem) who falls madly in love with a beautiful girl, Fermina (Giovanna Messogiorno). Florentino eventually wins her heart by sending her love letters, and Fermina agrees to marry him. Unfortuantely, her widowed father Lorenzo (John Leguizamo) forbids Fermina to see Florentio again; he wants her to marry well. When she defies him, he takes Fermina away for a few years. Florentino is heartbroken but continues to send Fermina telegrams. He wishes to reunite with Fermina once she returns.
A few years later, Fermina returns and is all grown up. However, she rejects Florentino as nothing but a "ghost" to her. Despite that, Florention still believes Fermina is the woman for him, even after she marries distinguished doctor Juvenal (Benjamin Bratt). While their lives may have gone two separate directions, Florentino still believes his destiny lies with Fermina, and he waits for her until one day her husband may perish.
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) is an excellent actor and he plays the love-sick Florentino with a lot of heart. Still, he is too old to play the young Florentino that his appearance takes me out of the story. I also find it difficult to identify with the character, despite Bardem's excellent performance. As Fermina, Giovanna Messogiorno (Don't Tell) is indeed beautiful, but her character seems so distant and cold that it's hard to believe Florentino would devote his entire life for the seemingly heartless woman. Messogiorno's performance is thus limited by her character.
The largely foreign cast lends a certain authenticity to the production, which makes the casting of Latino-American actors such as Benjamin Bratt (Catwoman) and John Leguizamo (The Babysitters) somewhat distracting. While Bratt holds his own as Fermina's loving husband, I do wonder if Jimmy Smits would have been a better choice. In a way, I feel that Bratt is simply too "perfect" compared to Bardem's character. On the other hand, John Leguizamo is miscast: he's too young (and short) to play Fermina's father, and he acts like gangster in east L.A. Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) is wonderful as Fermina's trampy cousin.
I understand that it's impossible to adapt Márquez's extraordinary novel to the screen. But I suspect that much of the beauty of the novel is in its historical and cultural richness; the love story would almost seem secondary. Unfortunately, what transpires into a script by Ronald Harwood (Oliver Twist) is a disjointed, hallow tale of two marginally unlikable characters. Much of the historical and cultural richness is absent. Instead, the story meanders along with Florentino's obsession that spans over fifty years. The scope of the story simply is too big for the film to carry, and we're left with superficial settings where major events are glossed over.
The biggest problem is that we can't identify with the two main characters. The hopelessly romantic Florentino comes off as a cry baby. Even with Bardem's skillful portrayal, Florentino is annoying, not to mention a creepy stalker. I can't remember how many times I said, "Get over it already." There's eternal love, and then there's creepy obsession, especially when a woman has already rejected you once too many times. On top of it, Florentino turns his obsession with Fermina to one with sex -- at one point, he boasts to a protégé for having sex with over six hundred women, and he causes a married woman her death because of the affair. Then later he tells Fermina that he's kept his virginity for her. What a scoundrel!
Furthermore, we're not allowed to experience why Florentino should be forever in love with Fermina, because she comes off as a cold, distant, ungrateful bitch. As beautiful as she is, she just doesn't exude warmth or kindness toward anyone. She's outright mean to Florentino. We are not allowed to go deep in her heart and see why she makes those choices. We're only left with one quote -- "You must learn to find happiness without love" -- to summarize her motivation. It becomes difficult to root for these two characters when you stop to care about them as individuals.
Director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) gives us a beautiful production with exquisite location shots and cinematography. The makeup is well done as well. Unfortunately, he, too, is crippled by an unsatisfying script. The epic feel is lost as the story jumps in almost an episodic, disjointed fashion and fails to engage the audiences and evoke the right emotions. We're just left with an apathy about these characters, and by the end, we keep wondering why we even bother.
The film is beautifully shot and made, but the story and characters are emotionally superficial and empty. The cinematography and make-up (which is quite impressive) cannot compensate the film's major weaknesses and flaws. True and eternal love is grand, and I can understand and even cheer for flawed characters. But the filmmakers have made one mistake that leaves me hanging: a real connection. The two lovers fail to connect with each other, and they fail to connect with the audience. Thus the emotions are superficial: Love should be more than just a thought.
Stars: Javier Bardem, Giovanna Messogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Liev Schreiber, John Leguizamo, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Director: Mike Newell
Writers: Ronald Harwood (based on novel by Gabriel Garcia Márquez)
Distributor: New Line
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, brief language
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.4 out of 10