While some of the year's strongest films of 2007 have stemmed from difficult novel-to-film translations (There Will Be Blood, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Atonement), the big screen adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's famous novel Love in the Time of Cholera proves to be a disappointment. Boasting a nice production value and a touching performance from Javier Bardem, Mike Newell's (Four Wedding and a Funeral, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire) translation is far too thorough and literal-minded to be taken in a single sitting.
Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) and Fermina Urbino (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) fall in love as teenagers. While they are determined to be married, Fermina's father Lorenzo Daza (John Leguizamo) is determined to keep them apart. As Fermina is moved away, Florentino stays in love and vows himself to wait for her.
In the meantime Fermina is married to Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), has children, and lives an entire lifetime while Florentino stays behind.
Ronald Harwood's (The Pianist, Being Julia) screenplay is loyal to Marquez's text to a fault. Where the novel spans over 53 years encompassing the many relationships and romantic foibles of its characters, the film sadly attempts to do the same in a 2+ hour running time, resulting in many rushed and oversimplified storylines. While it may be necessary to point out the number of women Florentino bedded while waiting for Fermina, it may not have been as necessary to show glimpses into the relationships of so many of them. It distances the viewer from the overall romance of the story due to the absence of his internal dialogue while with them. The essence of his true feelings is lost in translation, and the urgency of his passion for Fermina is absent.
Thankfully, the performance from Javier Bardem in Cholera is rather impressive on its own. A lot of passion and innocence stem from his eyes as his character grows very little from his youthful idealism. It is fascinating to watch how his mannerisms, posture, voice, and body language gradually change throughout the film as he ages. This is particularly noteworthy as the makeup in the film (more so on Fermina) is not particularly convincing.
Unfortunately, the other performances in this film are not nearly as strong. Giovanna Mezzogiorno is unconvincing as a fully realized character, often coming across as flat and uninteresting. She is certainly beautiful, but delivers her dialogue without conviction and says very little with her eyes. Benjamin Bratt brings no gravity to his character, leaving him as an empty shell, and particularly bad is John Leguizamo in his brief but painful role as Lorenzo Daza. His acting is over-the-top and often uncomfortable to watch.
As one would hope, the cinematography by Affonso Beato is gorgeous. The film is rich with colors and beautiful landscapes, making for at least a visual treat.
Love in the Time of Cholera is an aesthetically pleasing, well intentioned film that simply suffers from excess. Too much information is rushed through in too short of a time ultimately hindering the emotional impact of the overriding love story. The end result is a film that endlessly plunders forward, leaving the viewer shifting in their seat.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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