The late author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died Thursday at age 87, was best known as a Nobel Prize-winning novelist and pioneer of the genre known as magical realism. But the prolific Colombian writer also had ties to the movies.
Marquez’s work inspired numerous film adaptations, and he wrote a handful of screenplays as well. The onetime journalist even penned movie reviews.
Somewhat ironically for an author known for his vivid, visual prose, Marquez’s work often proved difficult to translate to the big screen, with resulting films rarely living up to their source material.
In a 1981 interview in the Paris Review, Marquez was asked if he thought any books could be successfully translated to the screen. “I can’t think of any one film that improved on a good novel, but I can think of many good films that came from very bad novels,” he replied.
Adding that he once wanted to be a movie director, Marquez said, “I felt that cinema was a medium which had no limitations and in which everything was possible. … But there’s a big limitation in cinema in that it’s an industrial art, a whole industry. It’s very difficult to express in cinema what you really want to say.
Here’s a look at some movies made from his books and how they fared.
“Erendira”: Marquez wrote the original screenplay for this 1983 film years before and published a novella version in 1972. The original screenplay was lost, but Marquez re-created it from memory for director Ruy Guerra. The film tells the story of a teenage girl exploited by her imperious grandmother.
In a New York Times review, Vincent Canby wrote, “‘Erendira’ has a kind of dreamy if monotonous charm to it. Unlike the Surrealist comedies of the late Luis Bunuel, the ‘magical realist’ comedy of Mr. Garcia Marquez’s screenplay never abruptly shocks or surprises us. It’s sometimes funny, but everything is presented in the same hallucinatory manner that is essentially soothing, even when it comes to murder.”
“Chronicle of a Death Foretold”: In 1987, Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi directed this drama adapted by Tonino Guerra from Marquez’s about a murder in a small Colombian town. The movie opened the Cannes Film Festival.
In a review for Empire, Gavin Bainbridge wrote, “Making a film of one of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels was never going to be easy” and went on to describe “Chronicle” as “an ambitious and uncompromising project but essentially too far up its own creak and without a paddle.”
“No One Writes to the Colonel”: Another Marquez adaptation to screen at Cannes was Arturo Ripstein’s 1999 film “No One Writes to the Colonel,” based on the story of an impoverished, retired military leader who served in the Thousand Days’ War.
In a Variety review, Leonardo Garcia Tsao declared it “a deeply moving adaptation of one of Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s finest works.”
“Love in the Time of Cholera”: In 2007, one of Marquez’s books was finally adapted into a Hollywood movie, directed by Mike Newell, written by Ronald Harwood and starring Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt and Giovanna Mezzogiorno. The film fizzled at the box office, taking in $4.6 million in the U.S., and it received poor reviews.
In The Times, Carina Chocano called the movie “a plodding, tone-deaf, overripe, overheated Oscar-baiting telenovela.” She added, “Doubtless it’s an enormously daunting task to adapt a book at once so sweeping and internal, so swooningly romantic and philosophical, but it takes a lighter touch and a more expansive view than Newell and Harwood seem to bring.”
“Of Love and Other Demons”: Writer-director Hilda Hidalgo had better luck with her 2010 debut, Costa Rica’s submission for the Oscar for best foreign-language film in 2010.
Variety’s Andrew Barker wrote that Hidalgo had “seemingly unlocked the key to translating the cerebral sensuality of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing into film, providing one of the few screen adaptations worthy of the Colombian novelist’s source material.”