In the 2015 documentary Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel García Márquez, available at Netflix and free online if you wish to chance viruses, the novel Love in the Time of Cholera is considerably addressed, that it’s “about his parents,” that, quoting the author, “it’s dangerous because it’s a love story with a happy ending.” Absent is his knavish warning, “You have to be careful not to fall into my trap.” Just what director Mike Newell’s version did. One of the thirteen producers of the movie deemed it a virtue that Newell and screenwriter Ronald Harwood converted García Márquez into something “digestible for a general audience.” Newell and Harwood navigate the saga of lovesickness as a safely literal romantic albeit circuitous voyage, avoiding the clever manipulation of readers to believe they could be seduced into thinking that since this is his most accessible of works, it’s also transparent. Not at all baffling to traverse, the book is trap-loaded with tropes, philosophic as well as corruptive mazes and sorcerous imagery. When the movie is over, one of the first questions readers ask is, Where’s the magic? Why isn’t that singing bird wisecracking back at the doctor, or flaying about in French and Latin? Where’s the anonymously sent black doll that grows out of its dress and shoes during the night while in Fermina’s bed? The at-the-foot-of-the-bed apparitions? To have to ask these questions about the movie by a director who made Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire could outrage lovers of the author. We end up feeling about Newell what we feel about Bille August with his stripped down version of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits—that their Euro-WASP practicalities are out of emotional sync with Hispanic literature laced with surreal wizardry. Newell has additionally undermined the endeavor by undervaluing the benefits of rigorous testing of makeup artistry. That’s as equally important here as it is in Olivier Dahan’s La Vie en Rose and what contrasts these two movies is the degree of success in the aging process. For Newell, who has to cover more than fifty years in 138 minutes, the grade isn’t even satisfactory; with a production estimated at $50 million dollars, there’s no way to accept Benjamin Bratt’s Doctor Urbino is 81 years old or Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Fermina is in her seventies. As Bratt’s uncommon Peruvian/Germanic handsomeness emerges through the facade of greasepaint we’re alarmed by the unexpected amateurishness and not assuaged when Mezzogiorno appears in gray hair and wrinkles that have been applied to suggest a Lifestyle lift. We’re further discomforted by Javier Bardem suffering those wimpy hairdos and a barber shop mustache and when his balding Florentino hobbles forward to profess a half century’s worth of unrequited love for Fermina, he evokes the Marx brothers, in unison sounding like Anthony Quinn. If Harry Potter fans would never tolerate inexcusably lousy FX, why should an audience for one of the world’s greatest writers tolerate all this lousiness? The three principal actors are not embarrassing; they are, beyond appearances, handicapped by what’s temperamentally missing in their characters. Bratt’s fastidious doctor in the novel is fairly likable and justly esteemed for his social and medical undertakings, but in the film he’s made distant and arrogant without due entitlement and is peculiarly “foreign,” accentuated by a top hat needing its height reduced. Because there’s no firmly established relationship between the doctor and his renowned bird (its linguistic tricks are a tourist attraction), the accident that segues into the story will come to lack its tragicomic punch. Mezzogiorno recalls a Debra Winger in youth, a Sonia Braga a bit later, and then a reserved Mélanie Laurent as Rachel Ward; she can do imperious coldness and also lunge forth—especially against daddy John Leguizamo (bad in the David Carradine-Warren Oates tradition) and against her adult daughter, who’s an unwitting reminder of the sins of privation caused by daddy. Before and confirmed at the conclusion, she hardly seems worthy of being the central love object of the book; if we could see interaction with her own menagerie of animals, including a masturbating monkey and a four meter anaconda slithering through the house at night eating or frighten away unwanted pests, we might respond more favorably. Deficiencies extend to Florentino’s multiple trespass: in the movie’s whitewashing. he appears too duncy a crybaby to harm anyone; in the novel he’s a diseased-by-love stalker, his sex life—self-documented and reaching a conquest count of 623 women—replete with moments of pedophilic seduction, hushed-up rape and unwanted pregnancy, murder (by a jealous husband), suicide. He’s always wishing for the death of his rival the doctor; he’s the scoundrel the rag Justice would be eager to expose. Love in the Time of Cholera isn’t the movie equivalency of the Latin American magician that readers have been waiting to see, though it is the best looking disappointment so far and, faint praise be not too damning, the most gentlemanly. Semana, a Bogota-based left wing news weekly, reported that the beloved conjurer, one of its contributors, responded to the movie with a smiling “Bravo!” Oh, the traps he set!

In March, 2019, Netflix announced the purchase of the rights to produce a miniseries based on García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. No timetable, and no director or adapter selected, but the author’s two sons, who will act as producers, have stipulated that as part of the deal the presentation will be in Español and mostly filmed in Columbia. This good news is one of the beneficial sideffects of Roma, so its director Alfonso Cuarón can be assumed to have the inside track for the plum assignment. No doubt Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu are licking their chops. Whoever gets it, readers hope those lovers fucking in muriatic acid as black magic realism are included.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2009 RALPH BENNER (Revised 5/2019) All Rights Reserved.