The film opens in the late 19th century in the lush, booming post-Colonial port city of Cartageña, Colombia, a time and place with very distinct borders between the ruling and underclasses. In this period of intense strife and possibility, Florentino Ariza first crosses paths with Fermina Daza when he delivers a telegraph to her father. This momentary glance fuels an emotionally charged journey for the three central characters that come of age during the time of the industrial revolution, fleeting but destructive wars and waves of cholera epidemics that – like love itself, are survived by some while consuming others.
Though the character of Florentino is Colombian, the filmmakers found the perfect actor to embody him in Spain: Oscar® nominee Javier Bardem (though Florentino is played as a teenager by Colombian actor Unax Ugalde). “There is a huge responsibility when you do a movie based on this beautiful novel – so complex, so magical, and also so full of tiny details that make the difference between a good novel and a masterpiece,” says Bardem, who has delivered universally lauded performances in such films as Before Night Falls and The Sea Inside. “It’s one of those rare books that stays with you your whole life because it is a masterpiece. It is read all over the world in different countries and languages, so everybody has their own Florentino and their own Juvenal and Fermina, and their own novel in their heads.”
Bardem, who first read the novel as a teenager, leapt at the opportunity to be a part of the film. “When I knew there was a script based on the novel making the rounds, I was very interested,” Bardem recalls. “And, thankfully, Mike Newell contacted me. It was one of those experiences of love at first sight when you feel that you want to work with a person because it’s going to be a great experience. Mike is very inspiring.”
When he learned he got the role, Bardem celebrated in Barcelona, but soon began the daunting task of finding his way into the character of Florentino Ariza. “The responsibility and challenge is huge because you have to play from 24 until 74 years old. And a movie like this is so complex and so full of detail; you really have to give everything. You cannot hold anything back for yourself.”