Judge Katie Herrell has already opted out of reviewing the sequel, Divorce in the time of Malaria.
How Long Would You Wait For Love?
If you can judge a person by the company they keep, then one can argue you can judge a movie by the previews that precede it. And usually I've found this to be true. Kid movies are preceded by previews of other kid movies. Art films by art films. Bad movies by other bad movies, etc. But while the previews for Love in the Time of Cholera had me running to my Netflix queue, the movie itself was a wrench in my previews theory.
Facts of the Case
Based on Gabriel García Márquez's novel of the same name, Love in the Time of Cholera is an unrequited love story that spans decades. In their youth, Fermina Daza, the daughter of a mule cart driver, and Florentino Ariza, the product of an affair, fall in love. But they are separated by her father's ambitions and soon Fermina is, rather unhappily, married to a prominent doctor. As Florentino vacillates between his roles as a love-sick man and a Casanova-like character, Fermina struggles with her life's path. The death of Fermina's husband reunites the once-teenaged lovers.
In 138 minutes this film spans decades. The movie begins with the cast as 70-year-olds although it is obvious the actors are all decades younger. Behind cakey makeup, powdery wigs and drooping clothes hides the soon-to-be-revealed younger cast. It is a case of bad dress up and the negative effect it leaves on me lingers throughout the entire film. Later, when the story moves backwards, I will be left with an overlaying visual of the characters as 70-year-olds and the meld is not a pretty one.
The opening scene features a pinnacle point in the movie, the death of Fermina's husband Juvenal Urbino played by Benjamin Bratt. It is a theatrical death, with Juvenal reaching towards a tree from a step ladder only to crumple to the ground as a servant and soon his wife reach out in horror. A beautiful courtyard is marred by death, but both the beautiful courtyard and the theatrical death are marred by a too-tight camera angle that highlights the poor makeup job on the actors and makes the entire scene feel staged and back-lotish. It forces me to imagine that if the camera is pulled back all illusions of a courtyard will fade as a boxed sound set with a Kraft food cart come into view.
In many ways the entire film has a very staged, theatrical feel. Although the movie was shot on location in Colombia, as well as in a studio in England, no scene involving the characters ever seems very organic. Although the sets are richly detailed—cluttered though—and the lighting quite different from scene to scene, the overall effect is one of elaborate contrivance. The lighting is too elaborately dimmed or well lit; the street scenes too filled out with extras. There is an edge missing from the filming that could have enhanced this dramatic love story gone wrong. I wish that some of the grit and beauty of the pastel-colored Colombia that comes through in the documentary-esque footage of the Special Feature "The Making of Love in the Time of Cholera," (which is entirely too dialogue and interview heavy) was incorporated into the film.
The actors themselves—a multi-cultural, successful cast that includes the recently feted Javier Bardem (Ariza as an adult), Giovanna Mezzogiorno (a successful Brazilian actress who plays Fermina), Liev Schreiber in a bit part, John Leguizamo (who plays Fermina's protective father Lorenzo), and Bratt—are faced with the difficult task of detailing a story that spans decades. While some of the characters are played by several actors, Fermina is played only by Mezzogiorno.
At her youngest, Fermina is in her teens, and although Mezzogiorno has tired-looking eyes that make her appear older, there is never any real doubt that she is the age of her character—until she reaches septuagenarian status.
Leguizamo is the most engaging of the entire cast, but that might be because his character is fiery and easy to dislike. In the Special Feature "Featured Commentary by Director Mike Newell," Newell says that he believes the modern-day incarnation of Lorenzo is someone who goes to work with a tire iron and a shot gun, and I could just as easily envision Leguizamo in that role as I could imagine him as a greasy king wearing a bejeweled robe and devouring a hefty drumstick. In a word Leguizamo is a diverse actor.
Bardem, who picks up Ariza in his early 20s, is an actor who seems well-suited to another error—the silent film. I see Bardem—based exclusively on his role in this film—as a bit of a Charlie Chaplin-style actor, with an expressive face and a cadence a bit out of step with the rest of the actors.
But with all the swapping of actors over the extensive time period, it is hard to really connect with any of the characters, and it seems that it's hard for the actors to connect with one another on screen as well.
The story is one of love lost and found and lost, but it is set in a time when reputations and money are paramount while, at the same time, all life is regarded as supremely fragile due to the constant threat of war and cholera. This double dynamic is one that I understand to be quite pronounced, and heart-wrenching, in the book (which I haven't read), but in the movie the focus seems to be on class and reputation while the constant threat of cholera and war is an undercurrent easily overlooked.
In "Featured Commentary by Director Mike Newell," the passionate director in a subtly-accented, measured voice offers insightful commentary on the film and the novel. However, at times his insight—intended to clarify or justify a directorial decision or give greater meaning to a scene—bears the opposite result. Newell frequently mentions the comedic timing of an actor or the nuanced nature of their words, but I never found the movie comedic or any of the dialogue particularly engaging. In fact, in many of the scenes the actors' speedy dialogue coupled with accents and background noise are a strain to follow. (The soundtrack is apparently original songs by Shakira, whom I like, but I never once noticed the music.)
I was drawn in by Newell's description of the pains taken to create a realistic landscape for his movie. I assumed fleeting visuals of mountains or the seascape (visuals that really didn't register on first watch) were real-live shots, but I learned many of the images were computer generated to erase modernity. Busy highways were replaced by computer generated scenes of mountains and roads were caked in dirt to relay authenticity. This attention to detail is important to those well versed in historical matters, but for the lay-person they are details easily overlooked and taken for granted. Newell's devotion to these details heightened my estimation of his work.
However, the overall effect of Love in the Time of Cholera is one of confusion and disbelief as the ever-evolving story-line and characters leave the viewer at an arm's length.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Certainly this movie deserves credit for their attempt to honor the book "Love in the Time of Cholera," and to try and relay historical authenticity. "The Making of Love in the Time of Cholera" tells the tale of a cast and crew set to film in Brazil, because of security concerns regarding shooting in Colombia. But at the behest of the Colombia vice president—and with the promise of their own army and all the protection they needed—the directors and producers decided they had to shoot in Colombia. It is a bit disturbing to know that in a country riddled with violence and drug issues, a movie set will be garnered their own army. But at the same time, I think it is important this film was shot where it the book was set.
Creating this movie was no small undertaking. Not only is the story complicated, nuanced, and spanning decades but the challenge of transforming to film a book that is heavily lauded and an author who is highly esteemed carries the extra burden of expected perfection. Perhaps there was never any way this movie could have lived up to the book, and perhaps Newell and co. should never have tried.
"How Long Would You Wait For Love?" Not even 138 minutes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Feature Commentary by Director Mike Newell
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