Mike Newell’s Love in the Time of Cholera is a trial and its two hours have sticky minutes. Certainly I am unable to watch it all in one sitting; it feels like a lifetime. Perhaps this was intentional in light of the 51 years, 9 months and 4 days duration of the plot, but even if it was, this does not constitute a success. Newell and screenwriter Ronald Harwood are both very capable filmmakers. The former of course directed Four Weddings and a Funeral and the latter won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Pianist in 2003. Nevertheless something went wrong here.
Love in the Time of Cholera is an epic tale of romance and lust in their manifold manifestations, held together by the central story of forbidden and then unrequited love. The novel adds flesh to these bones through liveliness, grit, brutality and bizarre humour, as well as magic realism. In comparison the film makes for a pale adaptation, notwithstanding Newell’s admirable ambition and the moments that work.
Catalina Sandino Moreno
The fault in the casting does not derive from the calibre of the actors. On the other hand there is only one minor appearance, from Catalina Sandino Moreno as ‘Hildebranda’, which perfectly encapsulates the humour, cheekiness and sadness of the original material. Without her performance a scene in which her character flirts and threatens to undress would have fallen flat and there would be no perfectly balanced foil to Giovanna Mezzogiorno’s earnest ‘Fermina Daza’. The scenes they share are a truthful portrait of friends.
Usually accents go one of two ways in films; characters speak in the appropriate language for the setting or they speak English despite the setting. Love in the Time of Cholera tested out a new hybrid of the two by filming in Columbia, with actors who are predominantly native Spanish speakers, speaking in English. It comes very close to working. Unfortunately some actors were more comfortable with English than others and tone or emotion were sacrificed. Had the actors been permitted to speak the language they were most comfortable with a lot of the lines that sound hammy might have worked. “I accept your marriage proposal, as long as you promise to never make me eat eggplant” is a great non-sequitur, but one has the feeling Mezzogiorno struggles with the timing, concentrating most seriously on making sure her English is correct.
While a little anachronism can perhaps be forgiven, Love in the Time of Cholera uses some turns of phrase that do not seem to fit the late 1800’s setting. Lines such as ‘they’re new in town’ and ‘you have bigger fish to fry’ pull you out of the story. Additionally some lines should never had made it past the first draft. ‘They are taking me away – where?- away!’ is particularly questionable but at least had a function… the first time.
Newell knows how to deliver a solid film and yet Love in the Time of Cholera needed a stronger and more comprehensive aesthetic. It is confused even from the opening credits (see above image) as we are treated to a child-like animation of blossoming flowers that is reminiscent of the opening to a ’70s children’s program. Not only does this have no place in the story (children and drawing do not have any specific significance), there is no effort made to continue the animated motif in the rest of the film.
I am loathe to bring the novel into the argument once more however there are some spectacularly visual moments described in the book, for example, a balloon flight over Colombia and searching for an underwater treasure hoard. These moments in the book feed the mind with vivid mental images that would have been deliciously striking on screen. Moments that made it on screen suffer from being too representational. The author Gabriel Garcia Marquez popularised magic realism using exaggeration, hyperbole and visual metaphors to highlight the beauty, ugliness and ridiculousness of being alive. Magic realism is a vibrant way of viewing the world, but the film relies on the dialogue and the setting to carry Marquez’s style.
Newell presents Love in the Time of Cholera as a reasonably straight forward love story, boy meets girl, boy waits. However it was not meant to be this clear-cut when it’s genesis resides in a story that is dirty, violent and obsessive. It is Love in the Time of Cholera, not ‘A’ love and the novel contained many different examples of love or at least relationships. Furthermore, while editing must be done the point still stands that the main plot lost the sinister side it enjoyed in the book. Love in the Time of Cholera should not be on shelves next to Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations…but it is. The film is a standardised Hollywood romance – which in itself is perfectly acceptable – it just has nothing to do with Marquez.
That said, apparently Marquez liked the film.