Toomuchrealism, not enough magic
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA Directed by Mike Newell. Starring Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Liev Schreiber, John Leguizamo, Laura Harring, Fernando Montenegro 15A cert, Cineworld/Screen, Dublin, 139 min WHAT do comedies starring Nicole Kidman and mainstream adaptations of magic realist fiction have in common? Simple. They are two endeavours that, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much talent you throw at them, will always, always end in catastrophe.
To be fair, Gabriel García Marquez’ superb Love in the Time of Cholera might be classed as soft magic realism – relatively few people turn into butterflies, and parrots almost never recite poetry. But it remains the sort of elusive, conspicuously poetic tale that ends up looking faintly ridiculous when translated into a movie.
Javier Bardem turns up as a South American telegraph operator who, in the first 20 minutes of the film, loses the love of his life (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) to a doctor, played by the dizzyingly miscast Benjamin Bratt. The priapic Bardem then commits himself to a lifetime of reckless sexual congress while the physician and his wife settle for as bourgeois an existence as is manageable in early-20th-century Colombia. Governments rise and fall. Decent character actors chew their way through several decades’ worth of furniture. Still, despite his transgressions, Javier yearns for his first love.
The film is directed by Mike Newell and written by Ronald Harwood, and the reliable old lags do bring a certain workmanlike quality to the exercise. It may be a sinking ship, but it’s a sinking ship with well-tooled fittings and brightly painted bulkheads.
The film is, however, also mindlessly boring and consistently ridiculous. Bardem spends most of his time wearing the sort of corny old-person makeup you would expect to see on Baron Hardup in a regional production of Cinderella, and Mezzogiorno appears only fleetingly familiar with the English language.
The film-makers’ greatest error is to include a scene in which the townspeople spend a desperately dull evening watching (I think) DW Griffith’s Intolerance in their local cinema. As the camera pans past the yawning, sighing movie audience one can’t help but . . .
You can see where we’re going with this.
The (very) discreet charm of the bourgeois: Mezzogirono, Bratt