Love in the Time of Cholera

Words fail me. There’s a certain kind of twisted logic to it: a novel about the persistence of love has turned, in the hands of a mediocre director, into a a campy, puffed-up piece of rotten Oscar bait, a movie of such boundless badness that it would take somebody with a Nobel Prize in literature to truly fathom the extent of its wretchedness. Gabriel García Márquez‘s 1985 novel is an impossibly sustained lyrical romance of unfulfilled love that stretches over decades, set among the lush vegetation and brimming cities of the Colombian coast. With his adaptation, Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) demonstrates that there’s more to Garcia Marquez than extravagant plotting: without the master’s ineffable touch, even his most fertile fictions turn to dust.

The story’s all there: in the late 19th century, the young clerk Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) falls in desperate love with the beautiful Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), but her father (John Leguziamo) interferes, and she marries Dr. Urbino (Benjamin Bratt) instead. Undaunted, Florentino decides to wait for her, no matter how long it will take. In the novel, Garcia Marquez fills the intervening years with outrageous and obsessively detailed anecdotes and labyrinthine detours rendered in extraordinary language, but Newell gives us nothing but a few dusty costumes, uninspired direction, and — instead of subtitles — Spanish accents that are supposed to communicate some sort of foreignness.

For the teenage Florentino, Newell uses a different actor (Unax Ugalde), but when the star-crossed lovers turn old, he just covers them with layers of ridiculous make-up. Were there no aging actors available that could have given the septuagenarian Fermina and Florentino a bit of desperately needed verisimilitude? Even worse, the film is completely tone-deaf when it comes to Garcia Marquez’s mingling of ruefulness and bawdiness. Newell plays all the wrong dramatic moments for laughs and mistrusts the romance to such a degree that he slathers every emotional cue with a syrupy score that makes identification with the characters impossible. As Fermina’s confidante, the wonderful Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) is not only wasted but, for the later part of the story, has to suffer the indignity of a fat suit.

But enough. It’s fruitless to count the ways in which Love in the Time of Cholera fails. Critics’ screenings here in New York are usually quiet affairs where you can get shushed for looking at the screen funny, but at the one I attended, people were talking back at the movie, Rocky Horror-style. Love in the Time of Cholera is scheduled to open on November 16.

Love in the Time of Cholera. Mike Newell, 2007. *

Paris, je t'aime


…and moi non plus. If there’s a kind of movie I hate to review more than any other, it’s the one that sounds too good to be true. Like a jilted lover obsessively reliving every painful moment, it requires rehashing your embarrassing anticipation and then laying out every deflating pinprick of disappointment. Besides, readers really hate the bearer of bad news. It can sap the joie de vivre right out of you.

So here we go again. Paris, je t’aime sounds like a connoisseur’s delight: two hours of short films celebrating the most romantic city in the world, directed by an impressive roster of international auteurs and starring a legion of favorite actors: Olivier Assayas, the Coen Brothers, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle, Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant; Natalie Portman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gerard Depardieu, Juliette Binoche, Ludivine Sagnier, Steve Buscemi, Bob Hoskins, Nick Nolte, Ben Gazzara, Marianne Faithfull, Miranda Richardson, Fanny Ardant, Gena Rowlands, Barbet Schroeder, Gaspard Ulliel. Surely, this could be nothing but a pleasure?

Paris, je t’aime. Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Emmanuel Benbihy, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Gérard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, and Gus Van Sant, 2006. **

Fast Food Nation Press Day

linklater.jpgA timely reminder why I don’t particularly enjoy press junkets. I was at the Regency on Park Ave yesterday morning for a marathon roundtable session for Fast Food Nation: Eric Schlosser, Wilmer Valderrama, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Dano, and Richard Linklater. Don’t get me wrong, all of these people proved friendly, talented, and smart, and I’d love to hang out with every single one of them–especially Schlosser and Linklater.

But sharing them with a table full of wide-eyed interns, self-promoting film critics, and aggressive vegan activists for twenty-minute stints in crowded hotel rooms to repeat what they already said for the press kit while their publicists are hovering over them with an eye on the clock is more than a little bit frustrating. I got in one non-starter question with Linklater and otherwise resigned myself to trying to absorb some of his dedication and energy. Now I have a couple of hours worth of audio to transcribe for a proper write-up….

[tags]film, press, film critics, interviews, richard linklater, eric schlosser[/tags]

Fast Food Nation

Excuse me while I barf. Richard Linklater’s dramatic adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s muckraking bestseller plays like Traffic with hamburgers instead of cocaine. The story, such as it is, looks at the problem of mass-produced, mass-marketed food from the point of view of a legion of characters, from the marketing guys in the boardrooms to the franchise owners, burger-flipping youths, local wanna-be eco terrorists and the immigrant workers who clean the killing floor. It’s the kind of multi-faceted thing that John Sayles excels at, but Linklater’s approach feels less rigid, more off-the-cuff, baggier, talkier. The cast is outstanding: Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Kris Kristofferson, Luis Guzman, Patricia Arquette, Ashley Johnson, Avril Lavigne, etc etc. It would be a great line-up for a party, and it’s too bad that the topic dictates that the movie should be a bummer in the end–dinner’s canceled while I try to get those images out of my head. (Fast Food Nation would make for a vomitous double feature with Our Daily Bread.) Looks like I’ll be talking to Linklater on Thursday, so let me know if you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask the man.

Fast Food Nation. Richard Linklater, 2006. ***

[tags]richard linklater, film, 3 stars, catalina sandino moreno, greg kinnear, ethan hawke, avril lavigne, john sayles, fast food, eric schlosser, hamburgers, beef, food[/tags]