Love in the Time of Cholera

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Love in the Time of Cholera." 

SAN FRANCISCO -- "Love in the Time of Cholera," Mike Newell's handsomely appointed but disappointing adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's complicated, sprawling novel retains the essential flavor of the book. Audiences are likely to split into two camps: Fans will mourn what's left out; and those unfamiliar with the book might find the film mannered and slowgoing.

The filmmakers, Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist") and Newell aim for a lush romantic fantasy about enduring love spanning 50 years in late-19th century Colombia. Instead, they create an overheated melodrama with abundant complications and hammy acting.

Taken on its own terms, the film would have been well served if the veteran team behind it had been ruthless in jettisoning material. The film's prestigious literary pedigree, international cast and Oprah's Book Club imprimatur will help make it a solid draw for the art house crowd.

When teenager Florentino (Unax Ugalde), a clerk with ghostly pallor and a knack for writing ardent love letters, spies Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), it's love at first sight. That passion will remain unrequited until the two are in the final chapter of their lives. Fermina's father (John Leguizamo in a broad performance) disapproves and whisks her away to the countryside. He plans to marry his daughter up. He succeeds when she catches the eye of Juvenal (Benjamin Bratt), a worldly doctor whom Fermina marries after rejecting Florentino's overtures.

Playing a pretentious lout, Leguizamo, chomping on a cigar, utters the film's worst, anachronistic dialogue. Bratt, whose accent is more Pepe Le Pew than cultivated aristocrat, has the second-worst batch of lines in a scene where he promises his sexually inexperienced wife "a lesson in love."

Meanwhile, Florentino (played as an adult by Javier Bardem) rises to the top of his uncle's shipping company. He carries the torch for Fermina over the next half-century and consoles himself with hundreds of sexual conquests, dutifully recorded a la Casanova. Years later, Juvenal dies, and Florentino declares his love to the grieving Fermina on the day of the funeral. The film starts with Juvenal's death, flashes back and then forward again -- shifts adeptly handled by Harwood and editor Mick Audsley.

In a touching section toward the end, Fermina relents, and the pair finally consummate their love. "Cholera" is at its most sage and romantic in its portrayal of mature marriage, older love and sexuality.

Shot on location in vibrant Cartagena, the film's strong suit is aesthetic. Cinematographer Alfonso Beato, designer Wolf Kroeger and costume designer Marit Allen evoke aged exotic locales, rugged rural settings and dimly lit period interiors. A closing, aerial image has a breathtaking, spiritual beauty.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
New Line
Stone Village Pictures
Credits:
Director: Mike Newell
Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood
Producer: Scott Steindorff
Executive producers: Danny Greenspun, Robin Greenspun, Andrew Molaski, Chris Law, Michael Nozik, Dylan Russell, Scott LaStaiti
Director of photography: Alfonso Beato
Production designer: Wolf Kroeger
Music: Antonio Pinto, Shakira
Co-producer: Brantley M. Dunaway
Costume designer: Marit Allen
Editor: Mick Audsley
Cast:
Florentino: Javier Bardem
Teenage Florentino: Unax Ugalde
Fermina: Giovanna Mezzogiorno
Juvenal: Benjamin Bratt
Hildebranda: Catalina Sandino Moreno
Uncle Leo: Hector Elizondo
Lotario: Liev Schreiber: Transito: Fernanda Montenegro
Sara: Laura Harring
Lorenzo: John Leguizamo
Running time -- 139 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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