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Love in the Time of Cholera

It comes as a terrible shock to discover this take on Gabriel Garcia Márquez's much-lauded tale of unrequited love is the worst adaptation of a literary classic since The Bonfire of the Vanities.


You would think a man who's deluded himself into thinking he's observed a 51-year vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love could wait a few more days before asking the object of his affection to marry him. Not Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem). As soon as he learns of the death of Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), Florentino runs as fast as he can to propose to the deceased doctor's grieving widow, Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Needless to say, Fermina's not impressed with her old flame's timing. No wonder she tells him to take a hike. And so we all introduced to the three sides of a love triangle that dates back to 1880s Colombia. Like Márquez's book, director Mike Newell's sumptuously mounted but poorly executed Love in the Time of Cholera unfolds through flashbacks to explain how Juvenal came between soul mates Florentino and Fermina. Both are young and immature when they first meet and fall in love, but their plans to marry are thwarted by Fermina's controlling father, Lorenzo (John Leguizamo). He does not approve of Fermina getting hitched to a man with little money and ambition, so he pushes her into the bed of the rich but compassionate Juvenal. Florentino vows to be true to Fermina to the day they can be together again. But he discovers that the only way to ease his suffering is to make a fortune in business and seduce every women he meets. Then, 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later, Florentino learns that Juvenal is dead...


The literary version of Florentino Ariza is often described as a self-made man with the heart of a poet. The same holds true for the film, but Bardem also plays Florentino as though he possesses the mind of Rain Man and the characteristics of a celebrity stalker. He goes from being downright childlike, as he counts the number of his sexual conquests, to pretty creepy in the blink of an eye. You half expect Florentino to pick up Bardem's air gun from No Country for Old and start killing those who stand between him and Fermina. There's also no charm to Florentino, so you're left scoffing at the notion that 622 women would sleep with him by the time Fermina is widowed. Bardem also never clearly articulates the contradictions of this man who employs sex to cure him of the pain his vow of love for Fermina has brought him. Mezzogiorno is no better as Florentino. Her Fermina is spineless, aloof and unlikeable. No man in his right mind would waste his life waiting to be with this cold fish. Catalina Sandino Moreno—wasted as Fermina's devoted gal pal—would have made a more captivating and sensual Fermina. Bratt barely maintains a straight face whenever he's required to rattle off some truly horrendous dialogue. The worst—but most entertaining—performance comes from the Razzie-worthy Leguizamo. Everything about Leguizamo—from his maniacal look to his mangling of the English language—suggests that he thinks that he's in Mel Brooks' History of Love in the Time of Cholera. If only we were that lucky.


Given Márquez's unique voice and florid proses, adapting Love in the Time of Cholera was always going to be a challenge for Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell and The Pianist screenwriter Ronald Harwood. Much was bound to be omitted or consolidated, but what's on screen fatally lacks passion and intrigue. This is not a testament to the power of love but an absurd examination of lust and obsession. It doesn't help that our star-crossed lovers are obnoxious and unsympathetic. If you're not emotionally invested in them, why would you care whether they eventually end up together? Honestly, it's Juvenal who deserves better. Newell rushes through each scene with little regard for the source material, but his biggest crime is to turn a blind eye to his cast's's embarrassing performances. While the film offers a few amusing moments—all involving Bardem and a naked woman—they do not provoke the same roaring laughter as its plethora of unintentionally funny scenes. Nothing is more hilarious than watching Mezzogiorno as the elderly Fermina disrobe, caked in makeup and strapped into a fat suit. This spectacle spoils what it supposed to be the film's most intimate encounter between Florentino and Fermina. At the very least, the complete ineptitude of those involved in this $50 million debacle makes for great viewing. But for this reason alone, Márquez should make sure that the first Hollywood-produced film based on one of his books also is the last.

Bottom Line rated this film 1/2 star.