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The Making of 'Love in the Time of the Cholera' (2008)

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18 March 2008 (USA)  »

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The making of a disaster
18 January 2011 | by (New York, New York) – See all my reviews

The filmmakers behind LOVE IN A TIME OF CHOLERA are given plenty of rope and end up hanging themselves in this typical behind-the-scenes filler, included on the DVD release. They should have left the obvious shortcomings of this unmitigated movie failure to the viewer's discovery.

Half-hour documentary begins with interviews of the film's neophyte producers, very typical of the new blood that cranks out major motion pictures these days, without the experience or even studio supervision of the Golden Age of factory movie-making. It has always resembled a Polish joke to me that compared to the '30s and '40s when a single producer (or associate producer) rode herd over a typical movie, many of which turned out to be a classic, it typically takes a dozen to two dozen hacks grabbing some sort of producer credit per film in recent years.

Scott Steindorf is one such culprit -check his track record and try to find a single quality (or watchable) movie to date, with posters up for Matthew McConnaughey as THE LINCOLN LAWYER, ready to reverse his stinko record. Dylan Russell is his partner in crime, with such shared credits as the horrible STAN HELSING and TURISTAS, not to mention the misfire PENELOPE. There's half a dozen no-talents back on board from screen credit on these junkers to CHOLERA.

Everyone yaps about how such a great novel (Benjamin Bratt especially) is a natural for making a great movie. But here's the rub, as mentioned over & over by erstwhile talented director Mike Newell: how to make such hermetic material "palatable" for a modern movie audience.

Everybody interviewed lets slip, in Freudian slip fashion, the idiotic compromises and condescending attitudes that led to the fiasco we poor audience members get to see as the finished product. First, there's the decision to shoot in English rather than Spanish. Several of the actors lament this decision, but all hands concede it is necessary. Obviously, with a budget pegged in IMDb at $45,000,000, you have to aim at a wider than just art-house, subtitled product. Although the occasional breakthrough hit like CROUCHING TIGER or LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL puts the lie to that conventional wisdom.

Then there is Newell's endless parroting of the party line, about simplifying the novel's structure (in this case its typically complicated use of flashbacks) and the need to cut, cut, cut. How many times have we heard about keeping films from being too long for an audience to sit through? It killed the theatrical chances for Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN America and ended up butchering (at the time) Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE. Even the Paul Newman project by Roland Joffé and Bruce Robinson FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY got the axe.

There remains an international double standard, since if you're a bona fide, fully-backed by sympathetic producers auteur like Jacques Rivette or Chantal Akerman a four hour running time -no problem! But here we have Newell repeating himself into the ground introducing 18 minutes of outtakes, each scene lovingly filmed and quickly dropped. What remains is 138 minutes of cornball melodrama, telenovela level soap and even a dollop or two of soft porn to keep a viewer awake. I almost needed to borrow Malcolm McDowell's toothpicks from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE to keep my eyes from shutting down, so tedious is this loser.

Newell also relates the anecdote of how thrilled he was to learn that his Brazilian cameraman shot ANTONIO DAS MORTES, an early favorite of his back in the days when Glauber Rocha was an international Big Name. I'd rather see a cinema revival of any of those wonderful Cinema Novo films of the '60s and '70s by Rocha, Pereira dos Santos or Ruy Guerra than sit through a latter-day mishmash like this farrago.

Cast is encouraged to overact, notably a miscast comedian John Leguizamo or barely recognizable Hector Elizondo. Maybe a comedy version of the novel would have given these two a chance to shine. The old age makeup on stars Bardem and Mezzogiorno is terrible, and having a young actor play Bardem's role in the early reels is merely a concession that Bardem couldn't handle the assignment. (See for example Paul Giammati's remarkable performance at all ages in the title role of BARNEY'S VERSION to see how acting as well as makeup can be done correctly).


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