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Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
June 21st, 2010

Rating: 2.5/5

Writers: Gabriel García Márquez (novel), Hilda Hidalgo (adaptation)
Director: Hilda Hidalgo
Cast: Pablo Derqui, Eliza Triana, Jordi Dauder, Joaquín Climent, Margarita Rosa de Francisco

Young Sierva is already possessed by some sort of magic before she is bitten by a rabid dog in the town market. With her three feet of copper curls and winding necklaces and strange speaking patois and her innocence that runs to the side of stupidity, Sierva is a mark for evil long before the dog latches onto her ankle. As the local bishop strongly believes that disease is the devil made visible, and that her subsequent illness is a mark of possession (not of physical frailty), the marquis’ beautiful daughter is sent to the local convent to be watched, observed, and (if need be) exorcised. But is Sierva really sick? And if she’s not physically ill, is she really possessed by the devil? The bishop sends in one of his favorite priests, Cayetano Delaura, to heal Sierva. But the results of their meetings are not what anyone would have seen coming.

From Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez’s book of the same name, OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS retains a dreamlike cast for its entire runtime. Even the most startlingly visceral scenes (like a visit to the local leper colony) feel unreal. In her debut film, director Hilda Hidalgo weaves together the tale of most forbidden love by use of a limited script, a heady dose of nature and color, and music that is both unsettling and captivating. The film features a number of dream sequences and hallucinations, forcing us to question what is real and if it even matters when it comes to what the heart feels and believes.

But the film suffers from the overwhelming and unshakable sense that what we are being presented with is simply wrong. Is the devil in disease? Is love sickness? And if the answer to both of those questions is “yes,” what are we supposed to make of Sierva and Cayetona? Much of your appreciation of this film will rely on your personal concept of love. If you believe in love as spontaneous and combustible and fated, the relationship between Sierva and Cayetona will probably satisfy. But if you’re of the mindset that some of the “great” love stories of our time hinge more on obsession and delusion, there will be little for you in OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS. Simply, there are people who are into Lolita. There are people who are not. The message of the film relies on our belief in the intensity of Sierva and Cayetona’s love, despite its tricky subject matter. But it’s hard to fall into the love story when the film routinely pushes into bad touch territory, when the audience wants to cringe at what they’re seeing, not soak it in.

Though Eliza Triana (in her first role) has the look of Sierva, much of her performance is weighed down by abundant sighs and indeterminate moans. I would rather she relied more on conveying her story with her looks and eyes, not just sighing out of both pleasure and pain. Pablo Derqui’s Cayetona faces a believable struggle, but it’s difficult to understand the how and why of the devoted priest’s change in devotions – from God and knowledge to physical touch and emotions turned destructively sexual.

But for a first-time director adapting some heavy material, there are parts of OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS that feel surprisingly assured. The film is beautiful and spirited to the eye. It’s quiet and dreamlike and reflective. It recalls this year’s ONDINE, particularly in terms of telling a love story in more poetic, fairy tale terms, and how that all informs (and often impinges on) our concept of reality. OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS works better when it’s being watched just to be watched, once the deeper meanings and machinations are probed, it’s unsettling without any answers, it’s tragedy without any tears.

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  • drewtinnin

    The Spanish are romantics which tends to help their fiction but hurt their films, strangely. Enjoyed your review even though I don't think I'd dig on the flick…

  • Bluedivina

    I really wanted to like this movie. I loved the book, I am Colombian, a huge fan of Garcia Márquez, and I was very happy that a woman was in the director's chair… And then I watched it. Hidalgo took one of Garcia Márquez most fabulous books and made it into an endless stream of beauty shots, with almost no dialog. The art direction and the photography are exquisite. And I think Hidalgo's mistake was to try to tell a complicated story only visually. I only knew what was happening, because I read the book. I only stayed to the end, out of a twisted sense of patriotic duty. I am a graphic designer, and I work at a museum, so believe me when I say that I can go all day looking at beauty shots. But after 30 minutes I just wanted to shoot myself.

  • https://gordonandthewhale.com KateErbland

    I very much agree.

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