U.S. Release Date: November 16, 2007
Distributor: New Line
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt, John Leguizamo, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Running Time: 2 hours and 18 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (sex content/nudity and brief language)

Poetry in Long, Slow Motion
by Scott Holleran

A lifelong Latin American heartache involving Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and Florentino (Javier Bardem) is the subject of director Mike Newell's Love in the Time of Cholera. Based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel of the same name, the epic drama is bulging with excess, missing key elements and teeming with finely crafted romanticist touches. The two-hour, 18-minute picture holds one's attention.

Flashing back to Colombia in 1879, the meandering story comes upon awkward, young telegraph worker Florentino (Unax Ugalde), who falls in love with nubile, young Fermina, who's rarely out of reach from her overprotective aunt and conservative, social-climber father (miscast John Leguizamo). The courtship is amusing, then heartbreaking and, ultimately, it is insufficient as the movie's thematic foundation.

Fernanda Montenegro, a ringer for Imogene Coca and almost as loopy in this role, steals the show as Florentino's aging mother, a simple woman who wants the best for her son and loses her mind trying to obtain it. Florentino, it seems, remains forever in the gauzy moment of his first love for Fermina—when he pledged to honor her—long after love has ceased to be an option. His untended wound seeps during the rest of the story.

Bardem is excellent again—not quite matching his great performance as the crippled sailor in The Sea Inside—and he takes his character from lost, ridiculed romantic to clandestine Latin lover. Without divulging the plot, it's enough to say that Fermina, whisked away to become a well-groomed, society cream puff—no one in this pseudo-surrealist affair is serious—consistently rebuffs Florentino, dismissing their youthful promise as an illusion.

But that which is an illusion can be recast as something that's real, according to the vision of those who choose to create it; shaping it and smoothing it—even if it is as hard and brittle as love in the time of cholera, a deadly disease that permeates the picture. This is the theme of the movie, which is equally rich with well-dressed lovers nibbling on flowers and erotic play in various states of undress. It is a lesson Fermina must either let go or let herself learn.

Florentino, somewhat humorously, does his best to adapt to unrequited love, taking the unlikely role of local lothario as a substitute for his precious Fermina. One scene with a lonely lady, her bodice and her cat is a hoot.

Fermina's part of the story is less successful, giving her friends and family we never really know—and, later, an entire dinner table of practical strangers—and, significantly, an enigmatic doctor husband, capably played by Benjamin Bratt, who wanders in and out leading to her denouement. Fermina always seems like she's slightly ticked off about something—like having lost the only man who loved her—and it is impossible to invest in someone who neither acknowledges nor atones for her mistakes. She doesn't seem to care what happens. When it does, neither do we.

Add to that numerous flaws, from bad acting to bad makeup—the geriatric jobs are noticeably fake—and far too many half-starts to mention, though an interesting but undeveloped mother-in-law character and a superfluous Liev Schreiber character come to mind, and there it is: an exhaustively literal adaptation which depletes itself.

The last act recovers its earlier sense of romanticism. In an exquisite rendering, lovers in white move about an elegant watercraft while the rest of the world fades from view. The scenes invoke an early 20th century esthetic with a distinctly South American flavor, putting the exotic, leisurely Love in the Time of Cholera right about where it needs to be.

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