Monday, 17 March 2008

Love In The Time Of Cholera - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Mike Newell
Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood
Running Time: 139 mins
Certificate: 18
Released: 21st March

There’s no sorrier sight than a would be awards picture sneaking out from the shadows post-Oscars hoping no one notices. Love In The Time of Cholera should have been a serious contender to Atonement for the throne of prestige period film of the year. It has the literary calibre, being based on Nobel Prize winning Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s celebrated 1985 novel of the same name, the cinematic quality, directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings) and scripted by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist), and a cross cultural pick of top performers. Yet there was nary a nomination to be seen this awards season; somehow it all went wrong.

The tale of lovers separated by the cultural and political upheaval of their war torn country is the type of narrative the awards bodies usually go ga ga for, but not here, and it’s easy to see why. Florentino (Javier Bardem) and Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) fall in love at first sight, but everything from the direction, to the acting and the screenplay sabotage any type of emotional connection that may have existed in the source material. Javier Bardem, who for the last few months has been walking on water in the eyes of cinephiles and critics alike, now finds himself washed up in the surf of mediocrity that is this performance. His on screen flame, Mezzogiorno, barely registers a flicker of charm, nor does she exude the magical charisma required to help you understand why Florentino would pine for her for fifty plus years. There is simply no credibility to their romance.

Unusually the casting and make-up deserve a thorough drumming for the plethora of blunders on show here. Florentino is portrayed in his teens by the youthful Unax Ugalde, who then ages dramatically into the thirty something and thirty looking Bardem while the remainder of the cast remain the same age. It’s needlessly distracting, as is the ageing make up, truly the bane of these types of films. While Bardem’s transformation into a seventy year old is marginally convincing, having Mezzogiorno bemoan her age while looking like a twenty year old in a grey wig is unintentionally hilarious. It’s like cutting out the middleman on the inevitable road parody.

Speaking of laughs, they are here in abundance! Witness Benjamin Bratt, as Fermina’s suitor Dr. Urbino, diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome by nuzzling her naked breasts. Or there is John Leguizamo as her vicious father Lorenzo who delivers all his dialogue whilst baring his teeth, spitting and spluttering all over the gorgeous sets. Or there’s young Florentino, reading poetry and eating flowers from a garden bush for no apparent reason…. it goes on and on. Newell, whose previous film was Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, clearly relishes in tackling more adult subjects (more specifically, naked women) but somehow Potter remains the more affecting drama. Harwood, recently bestowed with awards for his screenplay for The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, clearly left this gathering dust in the ‘to do’ pile. The politics of the age are scrapped almost completely; time shifts are confusing and dialogue cringe inducing.

While this tale of a man who waits for love by sleeping with 600 women has apparently enchanted a generation of readers, it’s big screen incarnation will surely bewitch no one. What went wrong with this teams attempt to bag those coveted nominations? Everything, apparently. What could have been a sweeping period romance has become a severe dose of cinematic dysentery.

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