A courageous or foolhardy move from director Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco (1997), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire(2005)) to adapt Gabriel García Márquez’s El amor en los tiempos del cólera, which has already established itself as one of the greatest modern romantic novels?
Well, there’s no doubting Newell’s competency behind the camera, which translates visually into a sumptuous feast for the senses, but whether Ronald Harwood’s screenplay captures all the intricacies of the love, lost and regained, that’s at the heart of the incredibly rich and detailed prose of the original, is another matter, and one that will doubtless be fiercely debated by the book’s devotees.
The setting is 19th century Columbia – young romantic Florentino Ariza (Unax Ugalde) spies young maiden Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) promenading through the plaza and is forever, hopelessly smitten. Captivated by her beauty, he resolves to remain a virgin until they can be together but – oh, misery! – following a heated exchange of letters and a long-distance barrage of telegrams, after Fermina’s father (John Leguizamo) has taken her in country to stymie the relationship, Florentino is casually rejected, with his beloved citing the temporary insanity of youth. Enter successful young doctor Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), who wins fair lady’s hand – and we cut to an older Florentino (now played by Javier Bardem) who, while still forever betrothed in his heart to his amour perdu, eases the pain of his heartbreak via sex with lots and lots of women. A dirty job, but somone’s got to do it…
Accusations of, ahem, ‘chick-flickery’ may follow, but they are misplaced – despite perhaps a mistake being made in the casting of Mezzogiorno as Fermina (her looks are simply not captivating enough, which somewhat undermines the original credibility of Florentino’s amour fou, particularly when one sees the ravishing beauty of many of his conquests), Bardem’s performance is a text-book account of the perils and pain wrought by the heart, and is thus the lynch-pin for a film that manages to avoid popcorn stereotypes.
The near two-and-a-half hour running time may seem extensive, but kudos, in fact, that so much of the novel’s original thrust remains, because a 12-hour mini-series adaptation would still have faced criticism over what had been removed.
Hearts of stone need not apply, but for the rest, the film can be seen as a qualified success, parts of which do resonate in the deepest places.