Combustible Celluloid
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With: Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Unax Ugalde, Liev Schreiber, John Leguizamo, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Laura Harring
Written by: Ronald Harwood, based on the novel by Gabriel García Márquez
Directed by: Mike Newell
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content/nudity and brief language
Running Time: 138
Date: 10/04/2007

Love in the Time of Cholera (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Lovesick Flick

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Love in the Time of Cholera is a film of drawbacks and distances. The 1985 novel by the Colombian-born Gabriel García Márquez is one of the most beloved classics of the 20th century. It was originally written in Spanish, and though the English translation is quite beautiful, it's still a translation. The new movie is filmed in English, so it's an adaptation of a translation. Then, we have a director from England, Mike Newell, who has absolutely no cultural connection to the Caribbean, where the story is set.

On top of that, the story takes place over fifty years, which in a novel is no problem. But in a movie it requires layers of age makeup, a process that, as movie technology gets better and better, seems to get worse and worse (imagine how awful this will look on HD-DVD or Blu-Ray six months from now). And, on an emotional level, stories that cover that kind of immense time span tend to leave out the most innocuous, but telling and truthful, moments in favor of great plot lurches and story highlights. It's like a Reader's Digest "condensed novel."

Javier Bardem plays Florentino Ariza, the slightly awkward but practical young man who falls for Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and waits for her for over half a century. During that time, he watches his fortunes grow and becomes a lover extraordinaire, so accomplished in bed that Hugh Hefner would tip his hat. Oddly, the movie chooses to cast another actor (Unax Ugalde) as the young Florentino, then slathers him in makeup to give him something closer to Bardem's blocky face; he looks like the Elephant Man. How Fermina could give this beast the time of day is a mystery.

Yet, in spite of all these layers of problems, Newell gives the movie a very welcome light touch, as opposed to the severe, reverential approach that, say, Merchant-Ivory would have brought to such an important novel. Though Bardem's fairly transparent performance struggles through its different ages, he manages to keep a wry smile behind his line readings, as if he were amused by the whole charade. The casting of the slightly loony John Leguizamo as Fermina's father and the easygoing Benjamin Bratt as Fermina's lawful husband makes the movie more relaxed and lively. It's no day in the sun, but given a chance certain moments occasionally shine. Love in the Time of Cholera

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