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Love Over Time

Sex, romance, obsession

Nov. 19, 2007
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Love Over Time
Sex, romance, obsession

by David Luhrssen

November 15, 2007

What is love, anyway? In Love in the Time of Cholera, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez disentangles love from sex and casts a skeptical yet hopeful eye on the varieties of romance and the vagaries of marriage. Marquez investigates love at first sight, unrequited love and love that never dies, along with whether stability is better than happiness and whether men can ever remain faithful for long—or faithful in what sense?


Love hurts in Marquez’s novel. It can injure the lover and the beloved. Love can also be a redeeming, inspiring force, as well as a source of many troubles.

In the ambitious film adaptation of this complex, multifaceted novel, director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and writer Ronald Harwood trim the sprawling text, tucking the story into the folds of an only slightly-longer-than-normal movie. Filmed in Colombia and spanning the late-19th and early-20th centuries, Love inthe Time of Cholera tells of star-crossed Florentino (Javier Bardem) and Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Fermina’s father thwarts their passionate teenage romance, expressed through fervid letters and furtive encounters. A nouveau riche mule trader, her father has dedicated his life to cultivating her into a grand lady, eligible for marriage into the higher castes. Florentino, an avid naf who works in the telegraph office, is never going to be his son-in-law.

Fermina marries a socially prominent physician, enjoys happiness and endures disappointment in the course of a long marriage. She forgets about Florentino—until he turns up after her husband’s funeral, professing his unending love for her after 50 years. Understandably, she is outraged and orders him out of the house.

Among the film’s strengths is its understanding for traditional Latin American culture. The veil of Roman Catholic sexual morality is stretched thinly across the erotic and romantic passions of the faithful; yet the imagery of the church and its ceremonies offers glimpses of transcendence amid the pull of duty and desire, chastity and lust. The film is aware of class distinctions and upward mobility, a social trajectory that was never limited to North America. Some of Marquez’s humor has survived the transition to the screen. As a clerk for his uncle’s shipping company, the hopelessly romantic Florentino, a frustrated poet, writes bills of lading in verse.

Love in the Time of Cholera is richly detailed, a glittering mosaic of period costumes and furnishings and paddle wheelers steaming upriver into the heart of Colombia. And it drinks in the ripe green countryside, a cooling presence in a culture of heat, along with whitewashed villas, their interiors curtained and pale against the relentless sun, with yards luxuriant in tropical foliage. Love in the Time ofCholera is beautiful for its panorama of nature and recreation of the past.

The story’s backdrop is important, but in its foreground is an acute exploration of one dreamy young man, his disappointing middle years and hopeful old age. The movie’s perspective shifts, but much of it concerns Florentino’s obsession with the only woman he ever loved, even as he finds interludes of escape in the embrace of other women—many women, his encounters neatly cataloged as if they were an anthropologist’s field notes.


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