Adapting a story from one medium into another is a tremendously tricky task. In translation from one of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's major works, the film adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera will undoubtedly lose certain things in the process. The film, though, has the potential to expose Marquez's masterful prose to a much broader audience. The question is, then, at the very least, will it inspire people to read the book? The answer is, 'well, sort of.'
By no means perfect, the film is worth viewing and captures the essence of the novel just enough to honour it. However, though it is difficult to fully capture such an epic and slyly complicated romantic tale on screen, it loses perhaps too much of the book's passion and whether you've read it or not, it leaves you wanting afterwards to fill in the gaps. That said, for people who haven't read the novel, it's a good place to start. It just doesn't take the story any further in realizing the full, big-screen potential of the stunning, feverish love story penned by Marquez.
The story at the surface is a beautifully over-exaggerated and overwrought love story set in a slightly gritty, fairy-tale period picture Colombia. It follows the life of Florentino Arriza (Unax Ugalde in his teens and Javier Bardem as an adult), a poor telegram boy, who locks eyes with the wealthy daughter of a merchant, Fermina Dazza (Giovanna Mezzagiorno), and immediately falls obsessively in love with her. They correspond through letters delivered by Fermina's spinster aunt who insists that her niece should never give up on true love when it presents itself. Of course, the father (played by the miscast and over-acting John Leguizamo) intervenes and takes her away. Florentino swears he will wait for her for however long it takes. Fermina does come back but, convinced that their teenaged love was all an illusion, decides to marry the doctor (Benjamin Bratt) her father has pushed upon her. Heartbroken, Florentino pretty much pines his way through life for her, unwittingly discovering sex with what eventually becomes thousands of women, catalogued and numbered Casanova-style, to fill the void.
The movie starts with the elderly Florentino at Fermina's husband's funeral, telling her he still loves her and he has waited for this opportunity for exactly 51 years, nine months and four days and from that point goes back. It's a hell of a dramatic way to start and the character of Florentino is so constantly, obsessively in love, it's almost absurd. But played by Javier Bardem, it's amazing you don't grow weary of this whelp throughout the film, but instead accept him as this pure being who lives off of his love for a woman. Without this performance by Bardem, the film absolutely wouldn't work and it is enough to even gloss over the film's many flaws--such as the plodding nature of the script, the noticeably bad aging make-up and the far-too-standard camera work. Much of the passion from the book is captured wholeheartedly by Bardem. It's just too bad many of the other people involved seem out of their depth, from screenwriter Ron Harwood to director Mike Newell down to the other performers.
By the film's end, the gorgeous story of enduring love and the sage, quiet beauty of rediscovering it still there and ever-strong at the end of one's life will move you. But the un-realized potential of the film will leave viewers wanting and until another adaptation can be made--preferably with Javier Bardem, or someone who can capture Florentino as well as he did--the problem can only be solved by picking up the book.