13 April 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera

If you don't have anything to do during the Songkran Festival, when people become so mad with hot weather that they just splash water to others, I would recommend you go to see Love in the Time of Cholera. Of course, a lot of people would say that it cannot be compared to Garcia Marquez's novel, but I think at least if you want to see what the atmosphere of Colombia's tropical town of Cartagena is like, you'd better not miss it. I read the actual novel quite a while ago, and I was quite intrigued by Gabo's portrayal of love by two old people, something that will probably be looked upon with contempt by youngsters or middle-aged people. Of course, it's a sort of melodrama, playing on the ideal love of Florentino Ariza for Fermina Daza which hasn't changed for over fifty years. If you expect this novel to be like One Hundred Years of Solitude, where magical events abound, this one is different: it doesn't show Colombia as peopled by flying carpets or supernatural events, but a country where real passion still exists and, along with it, dignity and charm.

Watching the film brings these features to the fore, as we see how Florentino Ariza, the source of which is Gabo's own father, who was also a telegrapher, stays 'loyal' to his love. Well, at least it's 'loyal' in the sense created by Latin men influenced by the cult of machismo. Florentino still sleeps with other girls (622 to be exact) along the way while Fermina is married to a prestigious doctor. However, as can be expected, Florentino finds these sexual encounters empty and just a form of temporary release. (I'm sure there can be a very interesting feminist perspective on this.) His ultimate quest is for the hand of Fermina in a marriage after the death of her husband. Yes, he plans to wait until his arch-enemy dies. The beauty of course lies in his patience and his 'loyalty' to Fermina.

However, Love in the Time of Cholera doesn't choose to depict only the good side of love, where the hero and the heroine are happily in love ever after. Florentino himself, for instance, needs to wait for more than half a century to have his dream fulfilled. Florentino's mother becomes mad because she can't forget her husband and what he has done to her. But of course what Gabo beautifully portrays is the heroism of these people who remain sincere to what they believe. In this light, Fermina pales in comparison as she gets married to the doctor, whom she grows to love. I've seen quite a few Ferminas in my life; I have some friends who choose to get married to those they don't fall in love simply because they don't want to be single or because they think that they'll eventually fall in love. I don't think they're wrong but it does make me wonder that in the modern world of fast love, such heroism is perhaps out of date. Or perhaps is it possible that nowadays we're so afraid of disappointment that our system of self-preservation and defence mechanism only works too well to prevent us from knowing what 'love' actually is? Or ... are Florentino and his mother just wrong in sporting such an idealistic view of love?

Another point that is worth mulling over is desire. I believe what makes Florentino stay so loyal to Fermina is because they're not together. The impossibility of their consummation leads to Florentino's own limitless fantasy. It may be possible that if they end up together for real, they may start bickering after the first month or so. Perhaps that's why the experience of heartbroken sadness lasts longer or becomes more intense than that of marital bliss. Or are we such a masochist being that we cannot stop torturing ourselves with sad memories? That can perhaps explain why sad songs are more popular than happy ones. Also, that can explain why such tragic films as Brief Encounter win a lot of people's hearts.

Before I digress any further, I think this narrative touches on these love follies with a certain degree of self-reflection and irony. At least you can see that there're no longer 'ideal' characters as such; everyone is both the perpetrator and the victim in some respects. This certainly makes it different from other melodramas where we see a pretty clear-cut categorisation between the bad and the good. Also, it doesn't make a judgement whether what Florentino does is right or what Fermina does is wrong. This is how life actually is and how human we are. Perhaps in love there is no right or wrong, the point of which I need another occasion to elaborate on.


celinejulie said...

I haven’t read any of Marquez’s writing, though I have seen a few films adapted by his work. As for LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA (2007, Mike Newell, B+), I think the film is watchable, though there seems to be too many events happening in the film. I don’t know if the story had better be adapted into a TV miniseries than a film or not.

My most favorite scene in the film is when Ofelia is banished from the house by Fermina. I want to applaud Fermina for doing the right thing. People like Ofelia deserve this kind of punishment.

My most favorite films adapted from Marquez’s writing are:

1.NO ONE WRITES TO THE COLONEL (1999, Arturo Ripstein)
I think Matthew and you saw this film.

2.ERENDIRA (1983, Ruy Guerra)

3.I’M THE ONE YOU’RE LOOKING FOR (1988, Jaime Chavarri, Spain)

dechito said...

I like the scene when Ofelia is kicked out of the house too. If Ofelia had been in Thailand, she would've been working in the Culture Ministry. :)

Yes, we saw No One Writes to the Colonel and I really liked the 'meaningful emptiness' of rural life portrayed in the film.