Cartas Del Parque: Adapting Gabriel García Márquez

Para la versión en español, cliquea aquí


Cartas Del Parque (1989) follows young lovers Juan and Maria who fall for each other at a town event. Unbeknownst to each other, they both hire the town poet to write their love letters. However, as their courtship continues, the writer finds that he is in love with Maria.

The great Bolivian director, Jorge Sanjines wrote, “The mistake of the films that have been made from García Márquez’s work is that they have been an attempt to transcribe his novels to a cinematographic level and hasn’t worked well. Film has its own universe that should generate its own stories… García Márquez has written scripts for films from his novels. The best that has been made in film from his work has been exactly those films that are based on his screenplay.” Gabriel García Márquez is considered Latin America’s greatest novelist, but his work as a screenwriter on  Cartas Del Parque, a collaboration with his friend and world-class director Tomas Gutierrez Alea proved to be the most successful screen adaptation of his infamously hard-to-adapt work. The collaboration may have been born in the 1980s but the story reaches more than fifty years back with García Márquez’s own parents. Their courtship provides the basis for our story. 

As García Márquez tells the story, his parents met at a funeral wake for a child and his father began pursuing his mother from that moment on. He gave her a rose with the words “Le entrego mi vida en esta rosa” or “I give you my life with this rose”. He also wrote her a letter confessing his love saying, “Ya no tiene que decirme que sí, porque su corazón me lo esta diciendo” or “You don’t have to tell me yes because your heart says it for you”. The only problem was that her family disapproved of him because of his low status as a telegraph operator so they took her on a trip far away from him. But the two lovers kept in contact and managed to communicate via cards left in presents, coded telegraph messages, as well as sign language. Her parents finally relented, Gabriel was born, and his parent’s story became a kind of mythological familial folklore.

Gabriel García Márquez & The Crew

From there, García Márquez adapted it into one of his most successful novels, Love in the Time of Cholera, though with many different details. He changed the city as well as his father’s profession to that of a professional letter writer and extended the separation period between lovers to fifty years. Written non-chronologically, García Márquez crafts a story of the battle between seduction and sensibility. As was true for García Márquez’s transition from true story to novel, the film makes many changes to its source. In the film, we see a much less complicated story with the absence of cholera and most of the novel’s characters. The film’s timeline is also chronological and limits itself to one year, this time not in Cartagena, Colombia but in Matanzas, Cuba. Changing so much of a novel many deem to be perfect could seem like a disloyal slight, but it’s a necessary step. 

This distance between true story, novel, and film is tremendous and it leaves a romance different than most others. This is not a love story about love but about love in movies, books, and our minds. Both the film and the novel draw on the escapist character of love which draws us away from reality and to an idealized world. The film’s letter writer, Pedro even creates a new language for this world of love. He teaches Maria about the language of handkerchiefs and Juan about the language of flowers, showing that Arabic people could make whole declarations of love by describing flowers.

This world of sweeping, romantic love, the kind we devour in novels and film, is predicated on the unattainability of the beloved. In other words, love is fueled by absence. The moment we realize that Pedro is irrevocably in love with Maria, he is behind her door as she calls to him, unable to move for a moment due to nerves. This woman who he has been close to throughout the film suddenly appears far away but intoxicating. It’s much different to the earthy love he shares with a local prostitute. His love for Maria is more ethereal. Both he and the prostitute realize that their love, though real, is better when abandoned abruptly. The night she receives a proposal from a merchant captain, she sees her possible future as the most veteran woman in the brothel and realizes it leads to the death of promise and hope. She marries the captain and Pedro does not come to the reception, instead leaving a bouquet of flowers for her. In fiction, it’s always better to let love burn out than whither.

Cartas Del Parque

Pedro lives between the past and the present, frozen in time. This feeling is clear in everything he does. When he decides to write letters to Maria from Juan after he has left Matanzas, he uses his old, dusty collection of stamps and postcards. Just as romantic love’s job is predicated on absence, the job of the writer is predicated on this isolation. He laments one night that both writers and whores live from what those in love are willing to pay. Even as Pedro becomes more than just a poetic translator to Maria, he can’t become close to her. It’s his duty as a character in this romance and as a writer. By the time Maria figures out the entire truth, Pedro packs his bag, certain she will be angered by his well-intentioned betrayal. She catches him just in time and as they draw closer the sound of Juan, her first love, flying over the city is heard but not seen. They lean in for a kiss and the film ends just before their lips touch. Unfulfilled love is far more romantic.

García Márquez’s parents may have gotten married fairly quickly, but the truth is something best blurred in fiction. Our writer, Pedro, says as much when Juan tells him that the letters have been all a farce. He retorts that there was no lie told in them and Juan replies that they weren’t truthful either. This middle ground is where poetic romance is born. The truth, plain and simple, kills romance. The newspaper article that reveals Juan’s actual whereabouts rather than the made-up locations from Pedro’s postcards, inspires nothing in Maria. You may find truth in a newspaper, but no poetry.

The narrative of the film itself walks this line between truth and lies. In the first scene, Juan and Maria seemingly fall in love at first sight at a historic hot air balloon send-off. Only later do we see that this was not their love story. Maria would fall for Pedro and Juan would fall for flying. Maybe even then, his love at first sight was not her but flight. When the two finally meet, their dates are uncomfortable and filled with silences that are only ended when Juan begins talking about his love of flight. When he takes Maria to the movies, he stops kissing and holding her when the newsreel about planes appears. Then Rene Simon, the town’s famous flyer, tells him to never let anything hold him back from what he wants. At that moment, he decides to leave Maria. When we watch the story back it seems so clear that this was always going to happen.

Cartas Del Parque

Maria’s love is also deceptive in a manner she doesn’t yet understand. Her love for Juan only comes when reading the letters he didn’t write. Her attachment is to words whereas Juan’s is to images. His love for flight is immediate whereas her love for Pedro is more gradual. The line between truths and lies is a necessity in an adaptation, not just of a book, but of a real story. Cartas Del Parque is deceptively simple. It’s not just a Cyrano-esque tale of longing. It asks us to question the nature of romantic love as we imagine it. How does the true love story of our parents become mythology? How can poetry be the fruit of love for some and not for others? There may not be an answer to these questions. For García Márquez and Gutierrez Alea, the facts and feelings of a moment get tangled in time and what’s remembered might not be correct, but it is not a lie.

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