Film tones down Garcia Marquez 'Whores'
By Kwaak Je-yup
It is obvious why Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works inspire filmmakers to dream. Troubled protagonists, raw emotions and vivid imagery make his books seem perfect for adaptation.
But every time, various directors who have attempted it have come up short of recreating the Colombian author’s literary magic on the silver screen.
Danish director Henning Carlsen’s valiant attempt this year with the controversial novella “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” (Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes) comes quite close. Unfortunately, he was forced to make a major compromise after political protests against it, giving birth to a gorgeous but incomplete picture, one that ended up unfaithful to the original content.
Filming a story of a nonagenarian hiring a 14-year-old virgin seamstress for sex drew the ire of advocacy groups, accusing the crew of condoning pedophilia and child prostitution. The set had to be shut down for three weeks, and the mention of the young girl’s age was left out. It is still so polemic that only Denmark, Russia and now Korea have decided to bring it to theaters.
It is clear these protesters had not read the book. It is a beautiful tribute to pure and innocent love — as troubling as the premise may be. El Sabio (Mexican national treasure Emilio Echevarria), a famed journalist and columnist who has “never had sex without paying,” turns 90 and offers himself the birthday gift of a young virgin through the help of town madam Rosa Cabarcas (Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter). With a sick mother at home, the chosen girl (Paola Medina) is persuaded by the money.
When El Sabio finally sees her naked body, drugged to sleep, he loses his sexual desire — completely. He is in love for the first time in his life, starts calling her by the name Delgadina (we never learn her real name) and keeps arranging to see her without ever consummating their unusual relationship. Fueled by his joy and passion, he writes daily love letters in the city’s newspaper, which the factory supervisor reads to Delgadina at her day job.
Flashbacks to his boyhood show his nearly unhealthy obsession to his beautiful, angelic mother and the loss of his virginity to a one-eyed prostitute. As he grows up, he sleeps with various women (i.e. the Melancholy Whores). A prisoner of his sexual appetite, he stands his fiancee up at the altar. But all that changes with his encounter with Delgadina, making an admittedly strange but irresistibly touching and poetic ode to love.
The central message is so wonderful and heartwarming that everything around it feels great, too. Actors, young and old, are superb. One could watch the film again just to observe their beautifully subtle facial movements. Every scene is pictured through warm hues, and every set simply stunning.
But is it not strange that we feel this way about a 90-year-old man falling in love with a 14-year-old girl? Where is the automatic repulsion that many people feel at the mention of the word pedophilia?
This is because of the choice of Medina in Delgadina’s shoes. She was 21 years old at the time of shooting and certainly looks that mature. Because contemporary audiences are so used to scenes of older men in relationships with young (overage) ladies, witnessing this love does not shock.
If Garcia Marquez’s novella left us with that lasting sense of troubled morals and discomfort even in the name of pure love, Carlsen’s film’s credits roll with a warm, fuzzy feeling of fulfillment — that everything is great now.
As enticingly handsome as that ending may be, it misses the point.
“Memories of My Melancholy Whores” (Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes) opens in selected theaters on July 19. Runs for 97 minutes. Rated for 18 and over. Distributed by CGV Movie Collage.