Adapted from Gabriel García Márquez's masterpiece, Love in the Time of Cholera is a painful mess.
Set primarily in Cartagena, Colombia, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the movie follows the unrequited obsessive love of Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) over the span of 50 years. Opening in 1930 with the death of an aging doctor, the film unfolds as a gray-haired Florentino professes his everlasting love to the doctor's widow, Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). The story then flashes back 50 years to the youthful secret romance between Fermina and Florentino (now played by Unax Ugalde). After Fermina abruptly ends their relationship, Florentino (back to Bardem) is beyond heartbroken. A swooning poet, he is incapable of composing even a simple business letter without writing romantic prose. While Fermina meets and marries the successful young doctor, Florentino subdues his pain through random sexual encounters.
It's a challenging task to translate any novel (let alone a classic one) into film. And while this adaptation makes many mistakes, the most glaring may be its obsessive desire to stay true to the book. The best novel-to-film adaptations (The Shining, Blade Runner) become something completely different from the original text. But director Mike Newell and writer Ronald Harwood adapt Márquez's work quite literally, and the effect is stifling. Trying to convey romance, social commentary and comedy, the film becomes a muddied blend of emotion. It's better to just read the book.