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Love in the Time of Cholera Reviews

No one ever said adapting Nobel Prize-winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez's densely layered 1998 novel for the screen would be easy, but given the level of talent involved — star Javier Bardem, director Mike Newell, screenwriter Ronald Harwood — the awful results are still a shock. Cartagena, Colombia: No sooner is recently deceased society doctor Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt) laid in his coffin than riverboat magnate Florentino Ariza (Bardem) appears before Dr. Urbino's widow, Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), with the message he's been waiting 51 years, nine months and four days to deliver: He vows eternal fidelity and everlasting love. Fermina curses his impertinence and throws him out, leaving the sad but still determined lover to think back to the year 1879 when, while assisting the city's telegraph operator (Liev Schreiber), the teenage Florentino (Unax Ugalde) delivered a telegram to the new home of wealthy mule trader Lorenzo Daza (John Leguizamo), and first caught a glimpse of young Fermina. It's more than love at first sight: It's a passion that burns like a disease and worries Florentino's mother (Fernanda Montenegro), who nevertheless urges him to allow himself to feel the ravages of love: He will never be so young again. Lorenzo Daza, however, has plans for his daughter, whom he hopes to transform into a great lady by marrying her into one of Cartagena's aristocratic families; a penniless, illegitimate telegraph operator would only stand in the way. Determined to live for love — and die for it, if he must — Florentino devotes himself to wooing Fermina. When, after a three-year epistolary affair, Fermina spurns him and marries dashing, high-born Dr. Urbino instead, Florentino embarks on a lifelong crusade to sleep with as many women as possible, losing himself in erotic pleasure until the day Fermina can be his. Huge in scope and beautifully shot on location in South America, this ambitious production is undone by terrible casting choices. The 78-year-old Montenegro is far too old to be convincing as the mother of a teenage Florentine, and the sight of Bardem, who looks 10 years older than 38, playing a callow, starry-eyed youth of 20 is simply ridiculous. Mezzogiorno is similarly unconvincing as a teenager and shares no chemistry with her costar. Garcia Marquez's novel contains little dialogue, so Harwood faced the difficult challenge of transforming his dense language into plausible speech. But Harwood is never able to balance the passionately erotic with Garcia Marquez's bawdy burlesque, and the Spanish-accented English sounds silly, particularly when Bratt throws out lines like "This will be a lesson in love!" on his wedding night. The story itself is really just a routine tale of unrequited love, and the success of the novel is a testament to Garcia Marquez's power as a writer. Unfortunately, the failure of this adaptation only points out Newell's and Harwood's limitations as filmmakers.