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Bringing The Characters To Life
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.”

Raised without a father by his mother, Transito Ariza, played by Brazilian stage star Fernanda Montenegro, Florentino has no real prospects or ambition, but he is driven by an intensely passionate poet's heart. Unfocussed and dreamy, he attempts to make contact with Fermina Daza through a series of passionate letters. By the time she becomes caught up in the romance, Florentino has already committed his heart's purest fidelity to her.

A lengthy search for an actor to embody the layered, fiery and often circumspect character of Fermina Daza from adolescence to old age led the filmmakers to young Italian star Giovanna Mezzogiorno, who has garnered acclaim and numerous acting awards for her performances in European films such as Don't Tell and Facing Windows.

"Her beauty is breathtaking, but beneath the youthful skin is a wise and committed actress,” says Newell. "This role would be a huge challenge for anyone, but Giovanna handled the pressure with grace and tremendous focus and creativity. It was extraordinary to watch her grow with Fermina.” 

In order to tackle such a consuming role, the actress felt the need to start from scratch and re-learn everything she knew about acting. "Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt and I, along with Mike Newell, our director, became very close throughout this journey,” explains Mezzogiorno. "We helped each other and supported each other. They are so fantastic at what they do and were so kind to me. If I did the role justice it's because they were here. I hope to be in harmony with what they did, which was amazing.”

Fermina's father brings her to Cartageña with th

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