Love in the Time of Cholera

Mike Newell

Last fall when I was at the movies with a friend, he walked in halfway through the trailer for The Painted Veil and, after hearing a few snippets of dialogue and the sweeping romantic music, turned to me and asked, “Is this for Love in the Time of Cholera?” After seeing the brand new adaptation by Pianist and Being Julia screenwriter Ronald Harwood and Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell, gosh I wish it would have been. The film is, of course, based on the deeply personal novel loosely inspired by the courtship of his parents and penned by Columbian Nobel Prize winning author and the man usually attributed with the beginnings of Magic Realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera tells the story of hopeless romantic Florentino (Javier Bardem) who devotes more than fifty years of his life to loving Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) from afar until the death of her husband Dr. Urbino (a dishy Benjamin Bratt) will allow him to once again profess his adoration and wish for it to no longer be unrequited. Of course, given our sultry sundrenched setting and the fact that he’s got a libido the dream of most Viagra television advertising executives, Florentino quickly abandons his wish to remain a virgin in waiting with what he felt would’ve been noble celibacy by proceeding to keep a journal of his 622 female conquests spanning most of his adult life until he can be with Fermina. Coming off the heels of his role as the air gun wielding killer with a coin toss fetish in the brilliant Coen brothers film No Country for Old Men, seeing impressive character actor Javier Bardem playing a romantic lead takes some getting used to and he never seems to feel all that at ease in a role that at times seems earnest, other times Almodovar-like campy (he’s practically raped during his first few encounters), and in addition silly and whimsical which makes us instantly recall Newell’s work with Hugh Grant in Four Weddings. I’m sure I speak for other fans of Marquez’s writing when I say that British sex comedy is probably the last vibe you’d like to have when watching an adaptation of his works which begs to mind an even greater concern that possibly he’s one of those brilliant and sensually evocative writers whose rich language and frequent use of metaphor doesn’t translate well to the screen. Instead of erotic in the vein of say The Unbearable Lightness of Being, it’s a strange hybrid of clinical forthrightness and child’s play that had some audience members laughing and others (such as myself) shifting in their seats. Although the gifted Newell and Harwood along with Cholera’s entire cast and crew had the very best of intentions and they crafted a lusciously photographed film filled with stunning art direction eye candy, perhaps they should have realized the significance of the fact that, according to IMDb it took producer Scott Steindorff three years of incessant courting to receive the rights from Marquez who was reluctant to part with a story that meant so much to him on a personal level and is beloved by readers around the globe. Steindorff-- that rare and admirable Hollywood producer who’s also a great lover of literature-- is sadly also known as the producer of the ill-advised adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, which you may remember made the unfortunate choice of casting Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins as a light-skinned black man much to the chagrin of African Americans everywhere. While Love in the Time of Cholera does benefit from a talented international group of artists involved, after seeing the disappointing finished product, I realize they may have been better off collaborating on a different project. Possibly The Painted Veil 2? (Just Kidding)