'Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez': Film Review

Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez -Still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Icarus Films
A loving career biography.

Justin Webster's doc examines the life and work of beloved Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Given how beloved author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is around the world, it's surprising how little attention has been paid to him by documentarians — even more puzzling after watching Justin Webster's Gabo and being reminded of the extent to which the author's most transporting novels were rooted firmly in his biography. Exploring these family stories while following Garcia Marquez's trajectory from a tiny Caribbean village to the spotlight at a Nobel Prize ceremony, Webster's attractive film leaves some topics underexplored but is substantive enough to please fans as it progresses through a Stateside arthouse tour.

Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vasquez leads a film set up to resemble a journalistic investigation, going first to Aracataca, the writer's birthplace, which would later be the model for the fictional town of Macondo. We hear about the grandparents who raised Garcia Marquez for part of his life — her, a deeply superstitious woman whose stories inspired the narrative style of One Hundred Years of Solitude; him, the eventual basis for No One Writes to the Colonel. Then we follow to Sucre, where the boy rejoined his parents, and see the brothel where he lost his virginity at 12. ("The most terrifying experience" of his life, he later said.)

Interviewing family members, biographer Gerald Martin and such key friends/colleagues as Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Webster follows Garcia Marquez from his first dramatic success as a writer — he sent a story to a newspaper for consideration and found it in print the following day! — to his attempts to balance journalism with ambitions to be a novelist. Brief but well-chosen excerpts from old videos find the author himself describing, for instance, how he and his wife negotiated a nine-month nonpayment of rent so he could write the book that would be his commercial breakthrough.

The film hits the high points of his literary career, illuminating the connections between family facts and fiction, spending a good deal of time on the Nobel coronation and Garcia Marquez's worries that it would make him unproductive. (Love in the Time of Cholera would seem to put that fear to rest.) At the same time, it follows political threads in his life and the continual pulls he felt back to straightforward journalism. We hear of his longtime friendship with Fidel Castro and the ethical conflicts that raised; Bill Clinton makes an extended appearance to discuss not just the author's literary gifts but how he almost helped broker an end to the embargo on Cuba.

What kind of husband and father was Gabriel Garcia Marquez? What was his life like in the years after a failing memory kept him from working as he once had? These are questions left for another film. One hopes some documentarian is collecting interviews while the relevant subjects are still alive; meanwhile, Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a fine start.

Distributor: Icarus Films
companies: JWP, Ronachan Films, Horne
Director: Justin Webster
Screenwriters: Justin Webster, Kate Horne
Producer: Kate Horne
Executive producers: Sumpta Ayuso, Angus MacQueen
Directors of photography: Lucas Gath, Kim Hattesen
Editor: Judit Mendez
Composer: Laro Basterrechea

In Spanish, French and English

Not rated, 89 minutes