In the most incongruous mismatch of literature and movie treatment since Demi Moore flounced around in “The Scarlet Letter,” director Mike Newell has taken a lyrical meditation on love, patience, devotion, loss, betrayal, and fever and turned it into a South American version of a Hugh Grant movie. He seems to think it is supposed to be a lightweight romantic comedy. The result is not without its pleasures, but every so often there is something so out of synch, so dissonant that it takes you out of the movie entirely.
It looks right. Wolf Kroeger’s production design and Marit Allen’s costumes do a better job telling Gabriel García Márquez’s story than screenwriter Ronald Harwood and director Newell. And it begins promisingly. An old man lies in a hammock with a beautiful, naked, and very willing young woman. But when he hears the church bells toll, he knows that an important man has died and that the woman he has loved for more than 50 years is now a widow. He proposes to her on the day of her husband’s funeral and she sends him away. Again. And so we want to see that story. We are drawn in.
They fell in love as teenagers. Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) was the sheltered daughter of a scoundel (John Leguizamo) determined to have her marry someone wealthy and important. Florintino (Unax Ugalde as a teenager, Javier Bardem as an adult) took one look and fell in love with her forever. She agrees to marry him. But after her father takes her away she changes her mind and tells him it was an illusion. She marries her father’s choice, a distinguished doctor (Benjamin Bratt). And Florintino waits patiently, improving his station to be worthy of her.
Of course, he is not patient in all respects. He becomes involved with over 600 women, keeping records on each one. This long section of the movie is somewhere between Wilt Chamberlin’s autobiography and Volume IV of My Secret Life by Frank Harris. Newell seems to have no sense of how creepy it becomes, even after one of the encounters has tragic consequences. Like the title epidemic, it is treated like just another romantic complication.
Parents should know that the movie includes very explicit sexual situations and references, brief strong language, smoking, drinking, domestic violence, scenes of epidemic disease, and sad deaths.
Family discussion: Why did Fermina change her mind about marrying Florentino? In what way was Florentino faithful to Fermina?
If you like this, try: Legends of the Fall and Like Water for Chocolate.