Title: Love in the time of Cholera
Screen format: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
Year first released: 16 November 2007
DVD released: March 18. 2008
Director: Mike Newell
Starring: Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Hector Elizondo, John Leguizamo, Fernanda Montenegro, Unax Ugalde
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 135 minutes
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Florentino Aziza (Ugalde and later Bardem) is a shy young man working in a telegraph office in the late 1800s. Florentino barely glimpses a young woman and is deeply and immediately struck with an enduring love for her, one that breaks him out of his shell and gives him the courage to use his amazing command of eloquent language to write her and seduce her through his letters. Fermina (Mezzogiorno) is receptive at first but when her father (Leguizamo, in an uncharacteristically caricatured role) learns of her love for a common and penniless man, forbids it causing her to tell Florentino his love is only an illusion. Despite Florentino’s attempts, Femina is taken away and she is betrothed to and marries a rich doctor (Bratt) and spends the next fifty years with him. Despite literally hundreds of conquests Florentino remains emotionally true to Fermina, and only upon the death of her husband will he have a second chance at seeing his love returned.
Adapting one of the world’s most beloved of novels is always a tricky proposition, but in the case of “Love in the time of cholera”, adding to that a language switch from Spanish to English is a huge gamble and one that clearly did not pay off, at least if box office draw is any indicator. In the ‘Making of’ segment, director Mike Newell noted that this decision was driven by the opportunity for this to become a grand and celebrated film the world over, rather that just simply a top tier art film, but perhaps it was young Unax Ugalde who noted that Cervantes doesn’t sound quite as invigorating in English and Shakespeare doesn’t quite sound right in Spanish either.
Even adding top tier actors, driven by veteran director Newell, to this adaptation of Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 'El amor en los tiempos del cólera' doesn’t seem to have caused the sensation that was anticipated, but I found a lot to like in this film and I think that it could be one of those sleeper hits that takes years to become really appreciated on secondary markets like DVD. I admit that I expected to find a dull period romance film going in, not knowing of the history behind the film and was pleased to find an interesting mix, alternating between Florentino’s sexual escapades and his unbearable pining for love.
That Newell specifically chose to enter each scene on the move helps keep the energy up through the film too, and this kind of movie could have felt like it dragged on but the action sequences, the choice of starting the film at the end (ala Pulp Fiction) the great surround sound contributions and a bit of nudity here and there kept it moving. Time will tell, but this is a new take on one of the oldest universal themes, unrequited love, and even if the lush imagery and excellent sound presence can’t quite lift this film to greatness, its message is sure to be appreciated no matter when it is viewed.
Sound Quality: 5/5
Right off I must ask a simple question: Can someone PLEASE explain to me why this film was not simultaneously released in high definition? This is a fully modern soundtrack that destroys that of most action films that have crossed my path, and that it is supporting a period drama, what could easily be dismissed by those who have not seen it as a mere ‘chick flick’ makes it even more extraordinary. This is quite simply the best sounding dramatic film I have heard yet, and that includes fully enveloping surround sound stage that puts the audience right in the middle of all of every scene, regardless of whether it is a military siege or a boxing match in the town square, or a jungle downpour or simply a quiet moment shared between lovers. The spectrum of bass usage is also remarkable, with well integrated low end within Antonio Pinto’s score to thunderous explosions during the war. Pinto’s soundtrack ranges from rousing to tender as well, with a few pit stops to include new vocal contributions from Shakira and an excellent renditions of classical tracks from Franck and Widor. All of which was completely unexpected but one of this films high points.
Visual Quality: 4/5
Likewise visually Love is a very well crafted film, using the landscape and colors of Cartagena to full effect. While clearly not treading on the realm of high definition the transfer is pleasing and detailed, with the exception of muddiness in medium shot facial expressions. This is a very clean print with no evidence of tears, pops or other defects, and I was never aware of any artificial edge enhancement or other digital artifacts. While I’m disappointed that no high definition version is available, I’ll wager that when one does show up that it will take what is already an impressive looking film to the next level.
Extra Features: 3/5
While there are only a handful of extras here, what is present is pretty good stuff. Starting off there is an extensive ‘Making of’ sequence that seems to focus on Newell’s choices and spends quite a bit of time over the controversy to film in English and the change of location shooting from Brazil to Columbia. It also details Producer Scott Steindorff’s quest to get the rights to this film and spends way too little time with the actors. There are also a few deleted scenes all of which have optional commentary with editor Mick Audsley as well as the theatrical trailer. Finally, there is a full length commentary with Director Newell which I have not explored in depth.
Overall: 3.5/5 (not an average)
While clearly not the home run that was expected by the producers of this film I cannot bash it as heavily as others have, it clearly has an interesting tale to tell and perhaps the expectations were a bit too high. Add in a terrific soundtrack and a passable behind the scenes look and this is definitely a film that should be easily overlooked or dismissed because of its romantic period piece heart. It’s definitely worthy of a rental at minimum.