Dir: Mike Newell. US/Colombia. 2007. 138mins
Mike Newell delivers a respectable movie adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's beloved 1985 novel, which because of its structural and temporal challenges has often been dubbed unfilmable. Newell and screenwriter Ronald Harwood remain faithful in a very literal sense to the narrative of the novel, and if they fail to translate the sweet melancholy and romantic soul at the heart of Marquez's prose, they succeed in producing a solid romantic film which will satisfy older adult audiences.
The production ran the risk of being one of those awful multi-national souffles like The House Of The Spirits or The Bridge At San Luis Rey where American actors talk English with ropey foreign accents and the very core of the source books are betrayed. Cholera just about overcomes those dangers by employing Latin actors - Spanish, Italian, Latino Americans and Latin Americans - even though their thickly accented English is often grating.
Then there is the issue of time. The film spans 53 years and much of the second half is played out by the actors in old-age makeup, a conceit that can often produce eye-rolling and disbelief in an audience. Newell again gets away with it, just, because his actors, especially Javier Bardem, are so good.
The film should produce some decent box
A story which covers so many years is always difficult to cram into a two-hour film, even if it stretches to 138 minutes. Indeed, there's something bloodless about this film, as if the film-makers were so anxious to include every twist and turn in the novel that they neglected the love at its heart.
The first half works well. It starts in the early 20th century with the accidental death in Cartagena of Dr Juvenal Urbino (Bratt), a respected aristocrat in his seventies. At his wake, an old man called Florentino Aiza (Bardem) accosts his widow Fermina (Mezzogiorno) and reiterates his undying love for her.
The story then flashes back 51 years. Florentino is a young poet and telegraph clerk (played in his youth by Unax Ugalde) who falls for Fermina when he delivers a telegram to her father (Leguizamo), an ambitious provincial with plans to marry her into a good family. Florentino woos her with letters and the two fall in love. But when Fermina's father gets wind of the affair, he takes her away from the city for many months. When she returns (at this stage Ugalde has morphed into Bardem), she tells Florentino that she has made a mistake and that they shouldn't see each other again.
He is heartbroken and watches as she meets and marries Urbino, has children and becomes one of the city's leading ladies. Although he engages in hundreds of affairs over the years, he still believes in his first love and becomes a successful businessman in an effort to provide for Fermina when her husband dies. This section of the film, which covers several decades in 20 minutes or so, is its weakest, and the characters lose their focus in the blur of years.
The final stretch which takes place in the two years after Urbino's death and follows Florentino's gentle seduction of Fermina is touching, but again has a speed to it which belies the beauty of Marquez's prose version.
The actors here are all fine. Bardem's commanding screen presence manages to illustrate both Florentino's meek nature and his passion; Italy's Mezzogiorno is effectively cast as the beautiful, wistful Fermina and Bratt is fine as her eligible husband. There is a string of tasty supporting turns from Moreno, Elizondo, Leguizamo, Montenegro and Harring.
The production itself is sumptuous. Largely shot in Colombia, the film beautifully evokes the time period and breathtaking landscapes. Antonio Pinto's score, peppered by three new songs from Shakira, is suitably lush.
Stone Village Pictures
Grosvenor Park Media
New Line Cinema
(1) 310 309 8400
Based on the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Catalina Sandino Moreno
Ana Claudia Talancon