Looking back at "Love in the Time of Cholera"
Javier Bardem, who recently won an Oscar for his performance in "No Country for Old Men," stretches himself as an actor nearly as far as the inestimable Meryl Streep does.
After being chilled to the bone by Bardem's role as a psychopathic killer in "No Country," which won the Best Picture Oscar this year, I was startled to see what he does in "Love in the Time of Cholera." The film is directed by Mike Newell. It was released in 2007 and now on DVD.
It's said that Cormac McCarthy's novel from which "No Country" comes is written much like a screenplay. Maybe that's why the Coen brothers, who directed it, made such a strong piece of cinema and won the Best Director Oscar for their effort.
Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez writes in no such style and that may be why his acclaimed novel, "Love in the Time of Cholera" finds itself struggling (script by Ronald Harwood) to translate to the big, wide screen. It's not the first time a well-received novel wouldn't convert to celluloid.
Bardem's vicious Anton Chigurh in "No Country" is anything but a romantic. And Bardem's Florentino Ariza in "Cholera" is nothing else. At nineteen, Florentino falls hard for a youthful beauty named Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) the first time he sees her.
Florentino is not what you could call a party doll. The sense of hip hasn't yet come upon him there in Cartagena, Colombia* in the mid 19th century. He forever pledges Fermina his undying fidelity and love.
Fermina's father (John Leguizamo) is having none of it. He whisks his daughter away from the city to cool the couple's unconsummated ardor. On her return to Cartagena, after some sense of maturation sets in, she rejects Florentino and marries a dashing and well-stationed physician for a life of social visibility, children and happiness. With only his mother to comfort him, Florentino perseveres with his vow of fidelity to Fermina and bides his time for some kind of opening in her spousal relationship. It is a long wait.
In a scene on a moving train that's more comedic than erotic, the poetic hero is briefly abducted by an anonymous young woman into her darkened quarters where she hastily takes Florentino's virginity. To put it in an understated way, he stumbles out of her compartment, buttoning his fly, with an indelibly altered demeanor.
Yet, in his own mind, Florentino remains faithful to Fermina while realizing, due to the obvious need he displays for his beloved, other women can't stay out of his bed. How could a rationalization ever be so convenient?
Before the film ends, we learn Florentino, without braggadocio, has kept score through the years. The number: six-hundred-twenty-two fair ladies from different walks of life. All the while, the beautiful Fermina never fading from his heart. He doesn't marry throughout his "ordeal," but seems to be having a rather good time, most of the time, for a 19th century square. It could be that mysterious woman on the train did Florentino a bigger favor than he might ever imagine.
"Love in the Time of Cholera" is, however, so much more than a film about a lovesick, rejected romantic who has a way with the ladies. It's more about love in all its forms---most compellingly, love between those who've grown old.
Seeing the film has motivated me to read the novel. There, I think I'll better experience Gabriel García Márquez' reasons and meanings.
Rated 'R' for sexual content/nudity and brief language.
3 random shots from the webmaster's 12-2-2007 tour of Cartagena. The old walled city was the real star of the movie.
"Love in the Time of Cholera" trailer