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Gabriel Garc

Becky Lang

Florentino Ariza is somewhere in the 500s on his scrupulous list of lovers when a plump woman with a flower on her lapel realizes that love is spiritual from the waist up, and physical from the waist down. Florentino, unimpressed with this division, places a ribboned nookie in her mouth to silence her.

“Love in the Time of Cholera”

Directed by: Mike Newell
Starring: Benjamin Bratt, Giovana Mezzogiorno, Javier Bardem
Rated: R
Showing at: AMC Rosedale, Carmike Wynsong

Waist up and down, “Love in the Time of Cholera” is an encyclopedia of affairs, conducted by cynics, minors, virgins and – quite rare in Hollywood – the elderly. Bombs drop and send dust flying while Florentino makes love to a woman who screams about her dead husband. A married woman arranges trysts by attaching notes to a dove.

Gabriel García Márquez’s story focuses on the postponed love of Morse code tapper Florentino Ariza and the affluent Fermina Daza. Ariza is the archetypal romantic who chews on pink flower petals while reading his love letters. Yet in classic Márquez style, characters rarely fall gently into their niches. Ariza beds hundreds of women while Daza sits through a loveless marriage with the prestigious Dr. Urbino, who Benjamin Bratt plays with a bored sternness.

What makes Márquez’s stories notable is the sense of humor found in the uncanny, unbelievable fates of the characters. In the book, Doctor Urbino acquires a pet parrot that speaks many languages and taunts him to his deathbed. Fermina fills their house with animals that later go down in a frenzy of rabies. Yet the film opts for a bland, formulaic angle, sacrificing the mystical scenes that would have adapted to the screen vividly.

In addition to the sacrificed aspects is the character development that Márquez so carefully emphasized by beginning the novel with a portrait of the characters as they are in senescence. Instead, the film skimmed over that period, focusing on the younger, more attractive days.

Maybe it was for the better, for the makeup artists were almost as clumsy and lazy with the wrinkles and liver spots of old age. The aged Fermina’s skin is suddenly youthful at her collarbone, and there is a scene where she goes away for a short time and comes back to find the puppy-eyed Florentino suddenly looking like a man who has spent a good amount of time around cigarette smoke.

Luckily, Márquez inflected his novel with enough complexity that it is hard to completely shake it out of the structure of Newell’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.” To the Columbian author, love itself is divided and slow, as people rarely stay the same or even have an explanation for why they’ve changed.

Cinderella and every succeeding celluloid couple in the West might have lived “happily ever after,” but examining characters over the course of an entire lifetime resonates closer to the squabbles and disappointments of regular people growing old. The skeleton of the original story provides the film with a complex plot, but the subtle wisdom in Márquez’s narrative fails to leave the page.