As the on-location filming drew to a close last fall, several cast members were in a mood to contemplate the vagaries of romance and time lost and regained, as they sat between takes munching on papaya soused with lime juice.
Lighting a cigarette in his trailer, Bardem says that one of the greatest hurdles for the three principals -- him, Bratt and Mezzogiorno -- is portraying how their characters age through love during the course of half a century.
"It's like an Olympic game," he says in fluent, slightly irregular English. "You're going to run, you're going to swim, you're going to go on bicycles. It's like everything put into a little pot, where you have to really minimize, to put a lot of effort but at the same time minimize it. Because otherwise it's nothing more than an exhibition of skills. And the audience don't want to see any exhibition of anything. If they want that, they will go to a museum. They want to see something real, something they can attach emotionally to."
The actor believes that Florentino's complexity derives from him being not only a creature of grand, tempestuous feelings but also a man of great spiritual and emotional purity. He's striving after not only a woman's body but toward a heightened consciousness, akin to a search for the divine. Even after 600 sexual encounters, some part of Florentino remains a virgin, Bardem contends.
"It's -- one thing is to be unfaithful, and one other thing is to be disloyal," the actor says. "That can be a tricky part, or that can be a very kind of funny excuse for somebody who's cheating on somebody else. But there's truth in there."
"Love in the Time of Cholera" is written in what Newell describes as a "confessional" style that hints at some element of autobiography, or at least deep insider knowledge. In the past, Garcia Marquez, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has indicated that the novel was casually inspired by his parents' courtship (sometimes it's reported as his grandparents).
Newell says the movie appealed to him, in part, because he always had wanted to make a film about his own parents' marriage, "which was functional for 50 years and then descended into catastrophe, really, for the last five years, they just couldn't live with one another for the last five years, and you thought, 'How can that possibly happen?' "
The answer that Garcia Marquez provides, Newell says, is that some relationships are bandaged and re-bandaged for decades, until the bandage finally starts to unravel, revealing what was always hidden but unacknowledged.
"You always look back at old boyfriends, old girlfriends, and you wonder what life would've been like if you had gone that way," Newell says. "And this is somebody [Garcia Marquez] who's taken those wonderings and actually made a plot out of them, which is extraordinary. And so you find yourself sucked in by your own life."
The novel's dominant third-person narrative voice takes a comic view of human folly, softening our sometimes cruel self-deceptions. Harring, the former Miss USA who plays Sara Noriega, one of Florentino's numerous conquests, says that from what she has seen of filming, Newell "is doing an amazing job" of keeping the sense of love's comic madness.
"His sense of comedy, he always wanted it real, which makes it funnier," Harring says. "A lot of people say, 'Well, you know, a Latin film should be directed by a Latin.' Mike has a sensitivity, because you don't want to make this film overly Latin. You need refinement in this film too, because things are so odd and you need that sensibility. And only an Englishman can have that perfect touch, to keep the comedy real and classy."
Garcia Marquez was in his late 50s when he wrote it, and the novel's perspective on love is recognizably that of a man with some serious romantic mileage on him.
"The curious fidelity of Florentino to Fermina, that 50-year fidelity, is a kind of middle-age ideal," says Harwood. "Regret is not part of his vocabulary because he lives in hope. And it is hope fulfilled."
Steindorff, a divorced father of three children, says he can relate to the author's view of midlife's special brand of craziness. At the time he began making the film, he says, he was haunted by the feeling that his professional success had come at the cost of missing out on deeper things.
"The character that I related to a lot -- and this is not in an egotistical way but in a kind of dysfunctional way -- I'm very persistent and I don't give up, so I really related to Florentino," Steindorff says, managing a smile.
Sometimes love means never taking no for an answer.