Making a marked departure from his last outing at the helm of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, director Mike Newell has crafted a film from another era—a lush adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. Unabashedly romantic, the late-19th-century Colombian-set epic flirts with melodrama, but the viewer who gives him- or herself over to the pitched emotions, nuanced performances and opulent design will be richly rewarded.
The illegitimate son of a single mother, modest, sensitive telegraph operator Florentino Ariza (played as a teen by Unax Ugalde, as an adult by Javier Bardem) glimpses the love of his life Fermina Urbino (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, an inspired, unconventionally beautiful choice) while delivering a note to her father. A tentative courtship via clandestine letters begins, but when her nouveau riche padre (John Leguizamo) discovers their correspondence, he packs up his daughter and heads for the countryside.
Although they continue to communicate secretly via telegraph, upon her return years later, she realizes their affair is just an illusion and rejects him, ultimately marrying respected physician Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). Florentino never lets go of his love for Fermina, however, finding success in his father’s shipping company and taking hundreds of lovers while awaiting the opportunity to rekindle their unrequited romance.
Bardem, opposite a spunky turn by Italian Mezzogiorno, offers yet another remarkable transformation. Close on the heels of his terrifying performance as a bloodthirsty psychopath in the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, here he captures in his unassuming shuffle the innocence and gentility of a man who is emotionally monogamous, if physically promiscuous, for half a century.
Working from an expositional, largely internalized novel, screenwriter Ronald Harwood ( The Diving Bell and the Butterfly ) has faithfully rendered Marquez’s vision for the screen both in structure and in spirit, capturing, too, the author’s mischievous wit. Some condensing has necessarily taken place, but often dialogue and scenes have been taken whole cloth from the book. Meanwhile, the audience will revel in Affonso Beato’s gorgeous cinematography and Wolf Kroeger’s sumptuous design; the aerial landscapes and outdoor marketplace are especially marvelous.
Distributor: New Line
Cast: Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Liev Schreiber and Fernanda Montenegro
Director: Mike Newell
Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood
Producer: Scott Steindorff
Genre: Period romance
Rating: R for sexual content/brief nudity and brief language
Running time: 138 min.