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Love in the time of Cholera (9/10)

by Tony Medley

One of the tests of a movie for me is its staying power. Do I watch it and forget it? Do I think about it later? If so, when I think about it later, are my thoughts emotional? This one passed all of my tests with flying colors. While this didn’t affect me as deeply as The Notebook (2004), despite its two hour-18 minute running time, it has stayed with me. When I think of it, I still feel some of the romantic emotion I felt while actually watching it.

Teenager Florentino Ariza (Unax Ugalde) spots Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) through a window and becomes instantly, head-over-heals infatuated. A telegraph clerk and poet, he courts her by smuggling letters to her, unbeknownst to her father (John Leguizamo). He wins her heart, but her father finds out about it and banishes her to the countryside for a year. When she returns, she feels Florentino was an “illusion” (an idea suggested by her father) and marries the natty Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), who first sees her when he examines her chest while she is ill.

Florentino (who morphs into Javier Bardem as he becomes a man) doesn’t give up and idolizes her throughout his life, as we follow him and her throughout both their lives. Florentino must have something not apparent to the casual viewer because, by his own count, he beds more than 600 women while waiting for Fermina.

This is the thoroughly romantic story told in 1985 Nobel Prize-winning novel of Gabriel García Márquez of the same name. Ronald Harwood, who won an Oscar® for The Pianist, has written a good, relatively cliché-free script that hold interest for the entire 138-minute running time.

While some may find Florentino’s single-minded obsession with a woman with whom he had little more than a fleeting relationship a little hard to swallow, I buy it because men can romanticize a woman of his youth, and she never ages in his mind’s eye.

Florentino’s obsession is even more understandable by the failure of Fermina to age realistically. She stoops a little and walks slower and her hair greys, but her face is still the unlined face of a youthful woman. In fact, at 72, Fermina looks almost exactly as she did at 21. Florentino ages more in line with human nature. In real life, of course, women show their age far more than men. But this is a highly romantic fantasy. In order for an audience to buy it, the woman must remain as attractive as she was when they first met, and director Mike Newell gives Fermina the ability to do just that.

However, when Fermina sheds her shirt near the end, her breasts look old and unflattering. Since we have already seen them at the beginning of the film when she is 20 years-old, we have a good comparison. How did they accomplish this, you might ask, as did I, because there is a tracking shot that starts at Fermina’s face and slowly goes down to a view of her 72-year-old chest. To accomplish this feat, the filmmakers used a body double and utilized a London company called “Double Negative” to do a face replacement. It is a remarkably seamless homage to Hollywood legerdemain.

November 9, 2007