The Cage of Innocence: Cholera?s Bardem ponders a metaphor for his romantic yearnings.

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An inconsistent director, Mike Newell has succeeded with The Good Father and Donnie Brasco and flopped with Enchanted April and Mona Lisa Smile. Is there a pattern here? Enough of one that the smart money should have bet against his screen adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s 1985 novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. The book is set in a madly romantic Colombia, far from the workaday Anglo and American milieus of Newell’s best work. Of course, the sprawling, verbose story would pose a challenge to any director. Scripted by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist), the film runs 138 minutes, hours too short for a story that covers more than 50 years and attempts to convey the endurance of passion over time. Minus Márquez’s many (and essential) digressions, the film’s story is simple: As a young man, Florentino Ariza (Unax Ugalde) falls in love with teenage Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Her father forbids the match, and Fermina ultimately marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). The adult Florentino (Javier Bardem) bides his time, insisting on his fidelity to Fermina while bedding hundreds of women; Urbino ultimately dies, allowing Florentino to recommence his courtship. Newell has tried to avoid the pitfalls of English-language adaptations of foreign literature, notably by casting Latino actors in most of the lead roles. (Mezzogiorno is Italian.) But Yanks like Bratt, John Leguizamo, and Hector Elizondo don’t mesh with Catalina Sandino Moreno (who’s Colombian) and Bardem (a Spaniard who, after ridiculous turns in Goya’s Ghosts and No Country for Old Men, should probably declare a moratorium on roles that require him to speak English). The jumble of accents and acting styles is as alienating as those movies in which Nazis use Oxbridge diction, or a lone American ingénue attempts to match a British cast’s delivery. Shot in Colombia and on London soundstages, the film is denatured and sanitized. Florentino’s final lover, for example, has been altered from a high school girl to a young woman. That’s altogether characteristic of a movie that tames Márquez’s fervid visions and cloaks his characters’ unruly lusts.