Love in the Time of Cholera


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

There are two types of writers. The first type consists of great story-tellers who glue our eyes to their works. We just can't put their books down because we need to know what happened to the characters. The second type consists of those who exert mastery over language. They use it playfully when they want to amuse; they use it powerfully when they want to move or inspire; sometimes they just use it because they love the way it resonates. Most of the truly great writers come from type two, like Shakespeare, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Nabokov, but most of the truly great cinematic book adaptations come from type one - writers like Stephen King, Mario Puzo, Harper Lee, Raymond Chandler, and Ken Kesey.

That is not to say that these are universal laws. There are great writers who were primarily story-tellers, like Cervantes and Tolstoy; and there are great movies made from language-rich source works, like A Clockwork Orange. As a general guideline, however, the works of great type two writers are difficult to adapt into worthwhile films. It may be a sad fact of our existence, but it is nonetheless true that one is more likely to create a great film from a Chuck Palahniuk novel than from a William Faulkner masterpiece.

It's good for potential screenwriters and directors to consider the following axiomatic. If a great writer is great primarily because of the way he masters language, one may make two assumptions: (1) it is nearly impossible to translate that particular type of greatness into cinematic terms; (2) it is completely impossible to do so in another language. A literal-minded translation of Hamlet in Polish is just a crazy-ass story about some fruitcake from an obviously inbred  royal family who builds up a Rambo-sized body count based on his conversations with a ghost.

Well, a Polish version of Hamlet makes no less sense than an English-language movie based on a masterwork of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The written version of Love in the Time of Cholera is a great work because of the magical spell Marquez weaves with language - another language - and the devices he uses to create that enchantment, like diaries and love-letters which are essentially his alternative forms of interior monologues.

The New York Times selected no less an author than Thomas Pynchon to review the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, and he could scarcely have been more enthusiastic about what he called a "shining and heartbreaking novel":

"And - oh boy - does he write well. He writes with impassioned control, out of a maniacal serenity: the Garcimarquesian voice we have come to recognize from the other fiction has matured, found and developed new resources, been brought to a level where it can at once be classical and familiar, opalescent and pure, able to praise and curse, laugh and cry, fabulate and sing and when called upon, take off and soar, as in this description of a turn-of-the-century balloon trip:

''From the sky they could see, just as God saw them, the ruins of the very old and heroic city of Cartagena de Indias, the most beautiful in the world, abandoned by its inhabitants because of the sieges of the English and the atrocities of the buccaneers. They saw the walls, still intact, the brambles in the streets, the fortifications devoured by heartsease, the marble palaces and the golden altars and the viceroys rotting with plague inside their armor.

They flew over the lake dwellings of the Trojas in Cataca, painted in lunatic colors, with pens holding iguanas raised for food and balsam apples and crepe myrtle hanging in the lacustrian gardens. Excited by everyone's shouting, hundreds of naked children plunged into the water, jumping out of windows, jumping from the roofs of the houses and from the canoes that they handled with astonishing skill, and diving like shad to recover the bundles of clothing, the bottles of cough syrup, the beneficent food that the beautiful lady with the feathered hat threw to them from the basket of the balloon.'''

Those passages are eloquent even in translation. But the actual events portrayed by the work are no different, more or less, than a summary of a year of General Hospital. The portion of the plot which has survived into the film is a simple one. An old man dies. Another old man realizes that the death represents his last chance at the widow, who happens to be his true love. He professes his love on the day of her husband's funeral, and the widow finds that highly inappropriate, so he is sent away with his memories ... (cue flashbacks). After some two hours of flashbacks to show us the origin and progression of the romantic triangle, the story returns to the two old coots. Will they reconcile to swelling music, or will they remain separated forever? I'll bet you can guess.

There's the film's problem in a nutshell. Without all the book's eloquence, without that brilliant, evocative and often playful use of words, what's left for a movie? Just the soap opera plot about a love-sick Colombian in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

And the performances are not good at all. The actors - even the ones who do not normally speak English with any sort of Spanish intonation - speak with cartoon accents that would embarrass Bill Dana and Senor Wences. The actor John Leguizamo was born in Colombia and can speak Spanish when needed, but normally speaks English with no accent other than a tinge of New Yawk. Here he speaks English with some kind of wacky accent which barely sounds Spanish. He sounds more like Long John Silver. As for Liev Schrieber, the man is a great actor, but I expected him to sell me a Chrysler Cordoba with rich Corinthian leather.

On the other hand, the clumsy convention of having the Spanish language represented by English with comical accents is merely one small drop in the vast ocean of bad acting on display in this film. Many of the performers are grossly miscast. The normally commanding Javier Bardem gives an awkward impersonation of a love-sick youth turned love-sick coot, as he shambles with baby steps, his head lowered and his shoulders turned inward in a performance more appropriate for a high school play. He does, however, turn in a great impersonation of Groucho:

Bardem seems like a master of subtlety compared to poor John Leguizamo. John can be excellent in both comedies and modern urban dramas, but he's a fish out of water in this period piece. Turning in a performance from the Snidely Whiplash school of acting, Leguizamo blusters, sneers and snarls, twirls his moustache, raises his eyebrows separately, and gesticulates wildly, failing to embody the perfect heartless conniver only because of his inexplicable failure to send any bound damsels into a sawmill.

And neither of them was the worst performer in the film. That would be Angie Cepeda, who was so bad that I'm shocked her scenes were not re-shot. You know your historical romance is in trouble when your best period actor is Benjamin Bratt.

If the performances weren't absurd enough to begin with, they are raised to the level of Benny Hill silliness by the ineffective old-age make-up, which the director keeps insisting on capturing in close-up after unrealistic close-up.

I don't want to argue that the movie is awful, although some aspects of it certainly are, but I feel I should prepare you for what it really is: not a cinematic interpretation of a great work of art, but simply a mushy soap opera photographed magnificently on location in Cartagena in rich golden hues, backed by lush orchestral arrangements and some soulful native folk songs. (Señor García Márquez himself convinced the famous Colombian singer Shakira to provide three songs for the film.) In addition to the heavenly scenery and music, the women are universally divine, and they are frequently topless in entertaining scenes, so the film is not without its charms. I kind of enjoyed the film for what it was, and I would have enjoyed it even more if it had run somewhat shorter than its existing 129 minutes, but it's a shame that those few elements are the only worthwhile remnants which could be salvaged from an acclaimed work by a Nobel laureate.


* widescreen anamorphic

* Audio Commentary - Mike Newell - Director

* Behind the Scenes - The Making of

* Deleted Scenes - with audio commentary by Editor Mick Audsley



It was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Song.

1.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
1.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
27 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
43 (of 100)











6.4 IMDB summary (of 10)
C+ Yahoo Movies














Box Office Mojo. It grossed $4.6 million in a 900 theater run. Its opening weekend was $1.9 million, which placed it in 10th place for the period.














Breasts from the following
  • Ana-Claudia Talancon
  • Giovanna Mezzogiorno
  • Laura Harring
  • Marcela Mar
  • Several prostitutes at a fiesta.

In addition, Angie Cepeda is seen naked from the side in a sex scene, and Catalina Sandino Moreno takes a bath, but her breasts are below the water line.

Javier Bardem shows his buns in two scenes.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


A great disappointment relative to an acclaimed novel. It is worth watching for its sheer visual beauty, but that is greatly offset by poor performances.