This is another post about a film, this time the film of a book that I loved when I read it in my early 20s - Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I came to Marquez through a stage 3 university paper, Post-colonial Lit at Auckland Univeristy in the early 90s. One Hundred Years of Solitude was taught by Sebastian Black, he of the tightly-buttoned paisley shirts and the bushy grey beard, which he often stroked as he pondered his own words. His enthusiasm for the work was infectious and I experienced the joy of loving a book because I not only read it but discussed the ideas it threw up. A boy I fancied sat in front of me and I gazed at the back of his head and nodded at his intelligent questions. Our lectures finished at 6pm, so as the days got shorter we would walk out together in the melancholy light and I would try and make him mine.
I read Love in the Time of Cholera after that, which was a much more straight-forward love story if I remember rightly. It appealed to my early 20s romanticism and idealism, when I was still falling in and out of love regularly and believed in all comsuming passion. On reflection, the boys that I fell in love with, especially those who spoke the language of love, were always the ones who ended up getting bored and moving on once the first spurt of romance (all midnight swims, drinking wine, sitting up all night talking) started to wane. They were in love with being in love (as I was, I guess). Still, exciting at the time and an essential part of growing up, but having now experienced more lasting love I can see that those affairs were nothing more than games really. Fun games, but games I'm happy to banish to my past.
So when I read Love in the Time of Cholera, with its great love that spans more than 50 years, I swooned over it in a way that I never would have over a Mills and Boon. After all, this wasn't just high romance, this was literature!
After seeing the film, I'm not quite so sure. I just wanted to give Florentino a slap, and Fermina for that matter, for falling in love before they've even spoken to each other, and believing they will die without each other. At least Fermina had the sense early on to see what it was: an illusion, with no grounding in real life. After Fermina rejects him, Florentino mends his broken heart by patiently waiting for Fermina's husband (a much more likeable character in the film) to die and by screwing more than 600 women. Oh the romance!
It's been so long since I read the book that I don't know whether the film was doing the book justice or whether it was just a bad film. I'd be interested to hear what others thought. The most interesting part for me was the relationship between Fermina and her doctor husband, but the film was marred by achingly bad make-up. The film-makers for some reason felt the need to give a young man a prosthetic face to make him look like a young Javier Bardem and it just looked awful. It was so distracting, as was the make-up of Giavanna Mezzogiorno as a young girl and as an old woman. It just looked like she had too much foundation on (one exception being her naked torso as a 70+ year old woman - now that looked realistic). For a review that sums up how I felt about the film, go here.
I'm going to have to read the book again to try and distinguish my feelings for it from the film, and to see if my jaded-but-content-in-love 37-year-old self still relates to it the way my wide-eyed 21-year-old self did. But I read Marquez's latest, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, about an old man in love with a young virgin, and to be honest, it left me cold and bit creeped out. I also think that the magical realism that I loved as a youngster (and tried to badly imitate in my own writing) is something that I've just grown out of.
My final thought on the book/film is that just like those young men that I had intense but short-lived affairs with in my youth (yes, including the boy from the lecture theatre), if Florentino had scored Fermina when they were young, he would have lost interest in her almost immediately and still ended up sleeping with 600 women. At least Fermina's husband gave up his mistress when she asked him to. I doubt Florentino would have done the same.