Love in the Time of Cholera: Book vs Movie

Last year, I read Love in the Time of Cholera. This is notable because prior to this, I hadn’t picked up a book to read for fun in several years. I used to love to read when I was younger, but adulthood was so packed full of obligations I rarely had the time. Cue Quarantine, during which I had no excuse, and a lot of free time on my hands.

The story follows the lives of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who fall in love in their youth but are separated by Fermina’s father who believes Florentino is beneath her. Fermina ultimately marries a well-to-do doctor from their village, but Florentino (perpetual bachelor) maintains his love for Fermina and whiles away the time for over fifty years. Or precisely: fifty years, nine months, and four days—because, you know, he is counting the days…until the opportune moment when he can declare his undying love for her after all those years.

Well, if my sappy, sentimental heart doesn’t eat that s**t right up with a spoon…

I absolutely LOVED it. The style of writing of the author Gabriel Garcia Márquez has been termed “magical realism”, which I had not encountered before, and is apparently a hallmark of Márquez and many other authors of Latin-American literature. The style has just the right blend of poetic storytelling and scenery, without painting all the world through rose-colored glasses. The characters’ story is set amidst war, death, and disease. We watch the main characters see the fairytale romance of their youth thwarted, and succumb to the drudgeries and practical realities of the real world, while Florentino’s love for Fermina keeps enough magic in the story to satisfy even the most ardent of hopeless romantics.

The characters and their relationships with others are portrayed with all their flaws fully evident to the reader instead of holding up the lie other fairy tales offer us of two-dimensional princes and princesses, and Happily-Ever-Afters with no ensuing conflicts for the remainder of the characters’ lives. Despite their flaws and their transgressions, you respect the characters and their respective relationships with one another. I appreciate all the grey area Márquez allows us a glimpse of. It is a tribute to the realism of the story.

I loved the story so much that when I discovered there was a 2007 movie based on the book, I eagerly queued it up to watch one free afternoon. Unsurprisingly, as is often the case with books made into movies, the book was far, far better. What was most surprising to me was just how vastly different my reaction to the characters was and the overall feeling I was left with after watching it vs reading it.

The main protagonist, Florentino, is a hopeless romantic, anxious, and shy. Definitely not your standard leading-man material. That’s fine with me—I always find that adorably dorky guy is adorable. His love for Fermina is admirable, and you root for him throughout—even though he does not technically remain faithful to her as he promises to in the beginning—but more on that later. Javier Bardem plays him in the film, and he is a good actor. Surely, I figured, he could be trusted to play the part adequately. But no. He portrays Florentino as more of a socially awkward pervert than anything even I could label as adorable. Not only was he lacking in any charm (dorky or otherwise), but I felt downright uncomfortable watching him play our protagonist. I certainly couldn’t bring myself to root for him. By contrast, Fermina’s husband Juvenal, depicted as a rather uptight, boring, stickler of a man in the book, appears downright dreamy in the movie by comparison. I found myself, to my dismay, rooting for him more than Florentino in the movie.

One notable item worth mentioning is that throughout the fifty years, nine months, and four days Florentino is pining for Fermina, he engages in sexual trysts with every woman in the village. Well, maybe not every woman…but apparently 622 of them.

But who’s counting? Answer: apparently Florentino

Thus, his promise to remain true to Fermina is strictly an emotionally faithful attachment rather than a physical one. While I do not find this to be the most adorable thing ever, I accept it (I mean, 50+ years is a long time to have to wait), and I am even a little grateful that Márquez chooses not to be puritanical about sex in the way most traditional romance novels do (where it is usually glossed over/ignored entirely). That being said, the director’s choice to include several of these sex scenes in the movie does not add to the film’s steaminess quotient…In fact, it detracts significantly. The sex in this film is some of the most unsexy sex ever; the cinematic equivalent of a cold shower. Spoiler alert: Florentino and Fermina do eventually hook up near the end of their long, sordid lives, and the director thought it would be a swell idea to show Grandma Fermina and Grandpa Florentino getting at it at last. You are happy for the characters in the book on principle—however—I do not wish to see that. No one needs to see that.

The director is Mike Newell, who I recognized as the director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I should have known then. I was notably unhappy with Goblet of Fire because of the poor editing and lack of skill in the storytelling. I remember thinking at the time that if you saw the movie without having read the book, you would have no clue what was going on. Likewise, with Love in the Time of Cholera, I see the same trend of quick edits from scene to scene that are almost jolty—it does not always flow well. The movie is true to the book and an accurate retelling of events, the scenery is beautiful having been filmed in Colombia…but the artistry in the storytelling is absent. Perhaps Mike Newell is one of those individuals who you could describe as being technically proficient but lacking in substance. The film plodded forward, but the emotions that drove the book were not there. It was not particularly romantic, and the book was incredibly so; one of the most romantic books I have ever read—right up there with Pride and Prejudice (even though they are stylistically VERY different).

So all in all, I highly recommend the book, but for your sake and sensibilities, skip the film. Unless cold showers are your thing.


2 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Cholera: Book vs Movie

  1. Just a quick correction, it’s Colombia, not Columbia. As anyone that takes great pride in our artists, their works of art, we especially take pride in our country and its correct spelling. Thanks!

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