Love in the Time of Cholera (R)
For the most part, Love in the Time of Cholera, the famed 1985 novel from Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garca Mrquez, trips up in its ambitious but off-key cinematic adaptation but not with the casting of Javier Bardem as its romantically enthusiastic protagonist.
British director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) works from a script by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) to tell the epochal story of Florentino Ariza, a young poet living in turn-of-the-century Cartagena, Columbia.
In this youthful state, Bardem's Florentino falls hopelessly in love with a girl named Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). But Fermina's protective father (John Leguizamo) facilitates her rushed marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), a European-educated aristocrat, dooming Florentino to swear a lasting love that waits busily for the doctor's death.
Some 51 years later, though, when the momentous event finally occurs, Fermina takes torrential offense at Florentino's vulgar attempt at cashing in on his vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love: "Don't show your face again for the years of life that are left to you," she says. "I hope there are very few of them."
This hostile rebuke sets off the film's flashback progression that eventually makes some sense of the grotesque title.
The current tendency toward magical realist films demonstrates a deeper reach for escapism than common film genres present. Movies like The Martian Child, Lars and the Real Girl, Wristcutters: A Love Story, Slipstream, The Darjeeling Limited, Atonement and even Todd Haynes' ode to Bob Dylan, I'm Not There, all share magical realist themes that go beyond their geographical and cultural context toward a universal element of inexplicable imagination.
It's not a far reach to conjecture that our current geopolitical and ecological predicaments have cornered some filmmakers into searching for unequivocal truths to supplement a reality strained by devastation and doom. A significant element of magical realist texts is the responsibility they put on the reader or viewer to decode the material. Love in the Time of Cholera makes its first demand for ciphering via a juxtaposed title that pits a subjective emotional experience against a haunting plague. For argument's sake, interject any other kind of war against humanity.
For example: Although young Florentino and Fermina are in love, capitalist demand for greed decrees that she must marry a cad who will eventually cheat on her. And an important irony lies in Florentino's incessant heartbreak, which causes him to seek sexual refuge at every opportunity for the 50 years that he waits for Fermina.
The assertion that Florentino makes to Fermina's papa that "there is no greater glory than to die for love" mutates into keeping count of his carnal conquests which amounts to more than 600 before he attempts to reunite with Fermina. The fidelity that he swears finds more devotion to his own transcendent stamina.
But for the most part, this adaptation lacks the full woof and warp that the book version of Love in the Time of Cholera offered. The film works best when it's able to channel Gabriel Garca Mrquez's inflamed writing style, as it does when Florentino exerts his poetic skill to write love poems for inarticulate lovers as a side business. Bardem's Florentino is most fulfilled when enticing romantic commitment between others with rhymes.
And though the film doesn't live up to its book, Bardem's intoxicating performance might be reason enough to see it nonetheless.