There's nothing less magical—or less realistic, for that matter—than prosthetic sagging breasts. Mike Newell's English- language adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera makes many, perhaps unavoidable, errors in translation, but the worst has to be the old-age makeup. The story of a schoolgirl being courted by a dogged telegraph operator requires fresh white camellias and unlined faces; the story of the aged suitor's rush to his beloved's side after the eventual death of her husband requires—no, not just artificial creases plastered onto thirtysomething abdomens. It demands old people: new actors, with real skin.

Love in the Time of Cholera is an incredibly generous novel, its sympathies unleashed more by the characters' consciousnesses than their frequently pathetic outward behavior. Strip away the thoughts and you're left with a love story so generic that Shakira could supply the soundtrack. (In fact, she did.) Fermina Daza (the charmless Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is the daughter of a mule magnate with dubious origins. Her working-class admirer Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem, groveling) doesn't notice her suspect status; and the distinguished Dr. Urbino (a slimy Benjamin Bratt) is so transfixed by her powdery skin and cranky behavior that he forgives it. In the film, none of these characters is particularly sympathetic: The girl is capricious, the underdog is tiresome, and the good doctor has no soul.

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From this impoverished narrative, Newell also tweezes out the kinds of details that made the novel so deliciously strange. The baby in the birdcage is gone; there is no black doll from Martinique that grows until it splits its shoes. Dr. Urbino's parrot doesn't speak a single word. There's nothing in this movie except obsessive devotion and accidental death. I found it exceptionally dull. recommended