ANTHONY BROOKS, host:
Among the biggest challenges a filmmaker can take on is to faithfully adapt a piece of great literature. And it's especially difficult that the book in question is lushly written and crammed with symbolism and magical realism. But that challenge didn't deter director Mike Newell from tackling "Love in the Time of Cholera," the novel by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Mike Newell, whose work includes "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," is our guest for the rest of the hour. If you have questions for him about "Love in the Time of Cholera," adapting literature to film or about his other films, give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255, our e-mail address is email@example.com.
"Love in the Time of Cholera" tells the story of Florentino Ariza and his lifelong and obsessive love for the beautiful Fermina Daza. In the film, the hero is played by Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
(Soundbite of movie "Love in the Time of Cholera")
Mr. JAVIER BARDEM (Actor): (As Florentino Ariza) Fermina, I have waited for this opportunity for 51 years, nine months and four days. That is how long I have loved you, from the first moment I cast eyes on you until now. I repeat to you, once again, my vow of eternal fidelity, everlasting love.
BROOKS: That's Javier Bardem as Florentino Ariza in the new film "Love in the Time of Cholera." And director Mike Newell joins us from our bureau in New York City.
Welcome. Good to have you.
Mr. MIKE NEWELL (Director, "Love in the Time of Cholera"): Thanks for having me.
BROOKS: I enjoyed the film last night. I got a chance to see it. Congratulations.
Mr. NEWELL: You're very kind.
BROOKS: What was you biggest concern? You know, I - we sort of started this segment about the challenge of adapting rich, deep literature. What was your biggest fear about making this film?
Mr. NEWELL: Well it's a sacred text, and it's a sacred text in Spanish. And we were going to make it in English because the finance for the film came from Hollywood, and he who pays the piper calls the tune, and so English it is.
BROOKS: You would rather have made it in Spanish?
Mr. NEWELL: No. I wasn't - wouldn't have been able to make it in Spanish. But, you know, the book had been around for 27 years and had not yet been made in Spanish and so rather make it than not. But it's extraordinarily rich. It's a great piece of art because every sentence is a contributor in some way. It's not just a forward-going simple narrative. It weaves back and forth.
And Marquez, when he saw the first draft of the script, he sent us a - some pages of notes which I had taped on my office wall for six months and was a kind of bible to me. And the one that sort of sang out at me because I couldn't understand it was this. He said: Where is my stitch work? He thought it was very good. He was very complimentary.
BROOKS: What was he referring to?
Mr. NEWELL: Ah, I couldn't work it out. And then little by little, I realized that one of the ways that the book was written was that no incident is ever - it's never done until it's done. And you will find that he revisits incidents, he revisits characters, he will drop on you these little time bombs of information. You can live with, Florentino, for instance, the leading character, thinking of him as a hero and as admirable and fascinating, and therefore a great human being. And three-quarters all the way through the book, Marquez will say, by the way, he was terrifically mean. He's mean with money. And you'll think, no, that's not a hero. You have to recalibrate the whole thing.
So what he means by stitch work is that he will constantly re-embroider then he'll fold the quilt and he'll stitch again, and he'll fold the quilt and embroider some more. Nothing is ever done. Nothing is ever finished. It's constantly evolving. It's - like it's alive, and that's very difficult to do in a movie where time, really, is straight ahead.
BROOKS: Sure. So were you able to sort of respect that question or respond to that question, where is my stitch work?
Mr. NEWELL: Well, I had to try and find a way of doing that.
Mr. NEWELL: And one of the ways that I tried to address it was that no frame of the film, no picture, would ever tell just one story. I tried always to have two stories, at least, going at the same time. And I tried to get those stories one commenting on the other, so that inside the frame there was a little kind of mini-story going on. It's not a literary device. That's a cinematic device. It's up to the audience to know if that satisfies them, but it does give it a real rich texture.
BROOKS: We're talking to Mike Newell, director of the new movie "Love in the Time of Cholera," which of course is an adaptation, is based on the book of the same name by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go to a caller. And a question for you, Mike Newell, from Emily(ph) who's calling from Cleveland, Ohio. Emily, you're on the air.
EMILY (Caller): Hi. I have two questions for you. First is, I was a - I studied Spanish in college and I read the text both in Spanish and English. And I found that a lot of the mystical realism was completely lost in the English version. How did you address that when you are making the film, especially making it in English?
BROOKS: Great question.
Mr. NEWELL: Well, what I made was - I made the English version because that's what the - that's what the audience is going to see.
Mr. NEWELL: My Spanish is crude and simple. It's what they call set Spanish.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NEWELL: It's how to say stop and go and quicker and slower, stuff like that. And so I can't judge it from a literary point of view. I have to take confidence from Marquez himself who clearly believes in the translation. The book is, in its English form, is beautifully written.
Mr. NEWELL: That's a tribute to the translator. And clearly, it satisfies Marquez, and it may simply be that there are other values that come through an English version, perhaps a simpler version, therefore. There are competing values that do emerge.
EMILY: Well, that kind of leads me into my second question. Did you collaborate at all with Marquez when you were making the film, and what were his thoughts about it?
Mr. NEWELL: Well, he was very sick. He's an old man. And he was very sick while we were making the film. And constantly, I would try to get up to - we shot in Colombia. We shot in the city were the novel was written, in Cartagena on the Caribbean in Colombia. And I tried to - many times, to get up to Mexico to see him, but he was sick or he was under treatment. He went to Los Angeles a lot for treatment. He is now triumphantly well again. So that's good news.
But I did talk to him about points of exquisite detail from time to time. He is very, very good about detail. Why a particular - I remember I got - started to get obsessed about a hat at one point. And he was very good about the - about the hat. And out of this discussion of detail came a whole opening up of the back country of this character, which kind of taught me a lot about how to approach the making of the film, and how important the business of character was to him.
One of the glorious things about the book is that it talks about whole lives. You are not talking about an incident from a life. You're talking about 60 years of - from innocence to experience, from not thinking about tomorrow to knowing you're going to die pretty soon. And you have to hang with those characters throughout those colossal periods of time.
BROOKS: Emily, thanks for the…
Mr. NEWELL: And so the…
BROOKS: Yeah, I'm sorry.
Mr. NEWELL: I'm so sorry.
BROOKS: No, I just want to thank Emily for the call. And I wanted to actually come back to you, Mike Newell. You mentioned that the film - it was filmed in Cartagena, Colombia. I thought one of the most successful aspects of the film was the setting. And I wanted to ask you what it was like to film there and it provided a wonderfully lush setting.
Mr. NEWELL: Yeah, as with all of those things, you have to select. The city still exists inside its 15th-century walls. And it's very romantic and mysterious. And around it then is a kind of donut of a colossal, noisy freeway. And the Cartagenans are - they are Caribbean people. The Colombians call them Costenos, coastal people, and they come from an extraordinary mixture. They are part African, part Arab, part Caribbean, part South American. And they're very noisy.
BROOKS: And you could really see that in the film. And you could see that wonderful sort of ethnic stew that that city represents.
Mr. NEWELL: Yeah, that ethnic stew comes with a price.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NEWELL: And part of the price is that nobody drives a car or a truck or a bus, unless they drive it in first gear with the pedal to the metal and a broken muffler.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NEWELL: I mean, it's unbelievably noisy. And that was the real problem, as was the heat. And of course, the story is full of the heat.
BROOKS: Well, Mike Newell, I'm afraid I'm going to have to - I'd love to talk to you so much longer. Congratulations on this film and thank you for coming in. I'm sorry we're out of time.
Mr. NEWELL: Okay. Thank you.
BROOKS: That's Mike Newell, director of the "Love in the Time of Cholera." The movie was based on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. He's been talking to us from our bureau in New York City. The movie opens nationally, Friday.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Anthony Brooks.
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