…vacuous

Love in the Time of Cholera (2007) Dir. Mike Newell
Spoilers!

The curious case of Florentino Ariza.

A boy meets a girl. The boy falls in love with the girl. The boy wants to marry the girl, but he is very poor. The girl’s father objects to the marriage. The father takes the girl away and makes her marry a rich man, a doctor. The boy waits for more than 51 years for the husband to die and asks the girl’s hand again. As simple as it sounds that is the story. It is perfect for an epic love story; however, it couldn’t be far from that. The way I see it this movie is a farce. It makes fun of the novel it’s based upon (by Gabriel García Márquez) and of all its elements. I don’t suppose the novel is written in this way (I never read it). It must be the filmmakers’ decision to ridicule this story.

First, the characters are ridiculed. Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) represents a typical romantic lover. He writes love poetry, and virtually lives off love, both physical and spiritual. He personifies an image of a perfect lover: devoted and faithful. At the same time, he lives with his mother, cries a lot (I’d call it sobbing even), cannot face failure and rejection, and (despite his vows of purity and faithfulness) finds the cure for his love sickness in making love to any woman he meets. If that wouldn’t be enough, he writes down all his conquers. Starting with number 1 — a mysterious woman on a boat — he goes on to break a record of having almost 700 women in his 70s. Is there a method to this madness? The movie tries to prove that no man can wait for any woman forever, even the one he loves the most. Then, there is no such thing as a perfect romantic lover — it’s an illusion (as Fermina Urbino, Florentino’s love, repeated several times), an oxymoron.

Second, another character that is ridiculed is Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and her rich husband Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). She is a beautiful, delicate, and sensible woman who is just being introduced to love and sex, which also is a sort of comic relief (for example, her wedding night). Her husband completes this crazy love triangle. As a cholera specialist, he visits Fermina when she is sick. He doesn’t fall in love with her until he sees her breasts when he examines her, a sight that impresses him so much that he decides to marry Fermina. Florentino loves Fermina; Fermina loves Florentino back; Urbino loves Fermina; then, Fermina loves Urbino; Fermina and Urbino marry; Urbino dies; Fermina gets together with Florentino again — crazy! All these happenings have an air of comedy, or more accurately of a farce.

At this point, I’d like to mention a story that on the surface is similar, almost identical to this one — F.F. Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” one of the great American novels, and one of my favorites. Like Gatsby, Florentino loves the woman that is of higher social status than him. He gets rich and advances to a better social position to be worthy of his love. Yet, Florentino seeks consolation in the arms of many women. Gatsby, on the contrary, stays faithful to his Daisy. Now, Daisy and Fermina. They both marry a rich man and live in luxury. They both want to leave their husbands for their first love. With Gatsby and Daisy, the story is more ambitious and complicated, and there is a deeper message there (if you want to know, read the book!). With Florentino and Fermina it is simpler — it’s just a story of love lost and found; there’s no message there, no social and political inclinations; it’s not even important where they live, what city and country it is. With Gatsby, every little detail, even page and every paragraph is vital and fascinating. What’s more, Florentino and Fermina have more luck — eventually, they unite together on board of a ship called La Nueva Fidelidad (New Fidelity), which is yet another joke about staying pure for the one Florentino loves.

Mike Newell’s production is far from being serious. It’s a comic story that has a range of curious characters (the best is the uncle that loves singing at funerals, and his only regret is he’s not going to sing at his own). The romantic lovers are not so romantic, and the love poetry Florentino writes is kitschy, flamboyant, flowery, and pompous. Finally, there is cholera threatening all, both rich and poor. However, I don’t know what the cholera signifies. None of the characters suffers from it. Is love like cholera: it makes you sick and you die? Maybe, you understood it better. If you have, or read the book, please tell me how is the story different in the novel, and how is it presented. To sum up, I wouldn’t recommend this movie. Instead, read “The Great Gatsby.”

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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