If ever there was one film which epitomised the belief that a film adaptation is never as good as the book - this is it.
Based on the bestselling novel by Colombian Nobel Prize Winner Gabriel García Márquez, 'Love in a Time of Cholera' tells the story of Florentino (Bardem). It's love at first sight for the teenager when he sets eyes on Fermina (Mezzogiorno). Initially she returns his advances but her social-climbing father (Leguizamo) forcefully convinces her to walk away with the belief that their love is a mere "illusion". She does and straight into the arms of the dashing local doctor (Bratt).
Heartbroken, Florentino vows to keep loving her throughout his life but also to soothe the pain by sleeping with as many women as it takes to do so. The fantasy, sensuality and passion of García Márquez's writing made the book an unforgettable epic love story, however this adaptation by 'The Pianist's' Ronald Harwood drifts uncontrollably towards 'Carry On' humour at any given opportunity.
There are however two stars of the film, the first being the setting. While based in an unnamed South American town, the film was shot in the Colombian city of Cartagena and the result is a colourful, vibrant backdrop to the rich storyline. The costumes and the scenery accentuate the look of the late 19th, early 20th century period. These factors, together with the talents of cinematographer Affonso Beato, combine to create a very good looking film.
The other highlight of 'Love in...' is Javier Bardem, who is excellent in the role, particularly in view of the film's many constraints. Beginning the role by playing much younger than his actual age - he's 39 - Bardem conveys a wide-eyed, innocent man suffering convincingly from unrequited love. Despite a number of noticeable and distracting blunders by the make-up and prosthetics department, as the film progresses he not only grows with the part but ages flawlessly with the passing of the years.
Regardless of flaws in the plot and direction, Bardem manages to inject dignity, humour and likeability into his character and because he believes, so too can we. It's no mean feat, a man who is frequently described in the film as a stalker's "shadow" and as a serial, if not clandestine, womaniser should be anything but likeable.
Mezzogiorno's Fermina is beautiful to look at - set in this wonderful age of letters, fabric and feathers - but lacks the charisma that is needed to explain Florentino's obsession with her as his supposed "crowned Goddess". The failure to ignite a passion between the two is one of the film's biggest stumbling blocks. How can audiences be expected to invest in the story if the lovers don't spark? The highlight of the book is the biggest disappointment of the film: the love story. By the time the romance climaxes, 53 years after it began, we don't really care.
As her character ages, Fermina stalls Florentino's advances by saying she "smells like an old woman". Well, she may, but she certainly doesn't look like one. Her movements and gestures are indeed of a woman in her seventies but her face and perhaps her body is that of a 40-year-old, which is inconsistent and distracting. Another make-up victim is 30-year-old Unax Ugalde, who plays the younger Florentino.
There are a couple of enjoyable supporting roles including a performance by a sprightly Hector Elizond0 ('Pretty Woman', Mr Torres in 'Grey's Anatomy') who plays Bardem's uncle. Amongst his many playful lines is: "I am not a rich man, I'm a poor man with money, there's a difference". However Leguizamo as Fermina's father and Bratt as her husband give performances more suited to a hammy pantomime than to this period piece.
As for the many, many…too many sex scenes, forlorn are the sensual love scenes of the book and in their place are numerous bodice-ripping, licentious fumblings.
Aside from a blatant and understandable desire to reach wider audiences, there are few other benefits to having a foreign language film shot in a non-foreign language. 'El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera' was written by a Spanish speaker, in Spanish and is performed by Spanish actors. To listen to Spaniards telling this Spanish story in English deprives audiences of hearing the film in its context, in its native tongue. A small yet obvious consolation is Antonio Pinto's ('Perfect Stranger') beautiful, haunting score for the film.
It was an ambitious undertaking to adapt the 1985 novel which not only created an unforgettable love story, but also managed to balance politics, civil war, disease and class structure with a magical realism all in a tragicomic tone.
The one, if not only thing the film has succeeded in doing is in increasing sales of the book. I've already added to the coffers and invite you to save on the price of a ticket and do the same.