Love in the Time of Cholera

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Cartagena

I first learned of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s Nobel Prize winning author, while watching the movie Serendipity with John Cusack and the lovely Kate Beckinsale many years ago.

The book, which was originally published in 1985, once again popped on my radar when I arrived in Colombia in 2009, as the story is set in a Colombian port city. While not specifically named in the novel, Marquez was most definitely referring to Cartagena.

I knew nothing of the plot or characters when I sat down to watch it recently. It turned out to be one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen, with plenty of twists and turns to keep viewers’ (or readers’) attention.

I acknowledge my tendency to reveal too much when writing about movies (see Sin Tetas No Hay Paraiso, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and La Sierra), so I’m going to keep this one short:

Florentino, rejected by the beautiful Fermina at a young age, devotes much of his adult life to carnal affairs as a desperate attempt to heal his broken heart. — IMDB

The movie starts off with the accidental death of Fermina’s husband. An elderly Florentino, shown to be snuggling with a pretty co-ed a few generations younger than him in a hammock, hears a church bell being rung in mourning, and attends the funeral service. There, he confronts Fermina after she’d been rejecting and ignoring him for decades.

The movie than goes back 50 years in time, to when the two first met, and carried on a secret “affair” via written love letters that was never consummated. Florentino promises to remain a virgin, saving himself for Fermina, his true love.

After her father moves them away from Cartagena, and Florentino, it’s only a matter of time before Fermina becomes the bride of a much more wealthy man, a doctor.

Please allow me to wipe the slate clean. Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom. Think of love as a state of grace, not the means to anything, but the alpha and omega. An end in itself. — Florentino

Fermina’s departure crushes Florentino. It was hard watching him continuously be rejected over the years, all the while remaining a virgin. There’s nothing romantic about his suffering; he comes off as completely pathetic. I almost gave up on him, and the movie, at this point.

Then, a chance encounter on a river boat leads Florentino to his first sexual encounter. Like opening Pandora’s Box, he realizes what he’s been missing, and begins documenting his affairs in writing, which number over 600 by the time he confronts Fermina at her husband’s funeral.

In addition to seeing Colombia portrayed in a positive light, in a big Hollywood movie, I also enjoyed the soundtrack.

Sounds of vallenato and several songs by Shakira help bring viewers to Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

I even recognized Carlos Gardel’s famous tango tune, Por Una Cabeza toward the end, however its inclusion is historically inaccurate, as it had yet to be written at the time.

Love in the Time of Cholera was shot on location in Cartagena.

Javier Bardem (from Vicky Christina Barcelona) is excellent as Florentino. Other notable names include Benjamin Bratt as Fermina’s husband, and John Leguizamo as her pragmatic and protective father.

Have you read the book or seen the movie? What did you think?

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