a review by Tom Condon, OP
Synopsis: Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) used to be a superstar soccer player
making millions of dollars. But, after falling on hard times, he's
forced to work in his brother's Mexican restaurant. It's not all bad,
though, especially when he falls for a pretty young waitress
Weeks before it opened locally, I was receiving e-mail’s and
hearing publicity about this film for its pro-life message. An
unmarried young woman confronted with an unwanted pregnancy considers
abortion, but reconsiders. I also heard that Bella won
an audience award at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival. So,
I went to see it the first weekend it opened.
I wish I could be a lot more enthusiastic about recommending Bella. Although
I support its message, it’s not much of a movie. It is
so short and slight, it’s more like a cable TV movie.
The plot of Bella centers around Nina (Tammy Blanchard),
a young woman fired from her job as a waitress because she has been
late one time too many. Jose (Eduardo Verastegui), the head
chef and brother of the owner, Manny, is sympathetic to Nina and
goes out on the sidewalk to talk with her. Jose ends up spending
the day with Nina. They tell each other their stories. Nina’s
father died when she was 12. Her mother was so overcome by
grief that she ignored Nina, who basically raised herself. Jose
is a promising Mexican soccer player whose career came to a halt
as the result of a tragic accident. Nina now finds herself
pregnant, unemployed and alone. Jose befriends her, and challenges
her plans to abort the pregnancy.
The basic concept of the film has potential, but it never develops. The
writing and direction are flat. However, one scene stands out. Jose
brings Nina to his family home, alive with color, laughter, and wonderful
food. There’s an energy in the scene which is absent
from the rest of the movie. This shows what the rest of the
film could have been like.
Another plus is also the ethnicity of the film. Mexican Alejandro
Monteverde directs a cast of Mexican and Anglo actors. A good
bit of the dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles.
Sadly, Bella never picks up much steam. Throughout
most of the film, Nina and Jose walk through the streets of New York
and talk about her predicament. Despite all their talk, I never
felt drawn into their lives.
The ending of the film is also problematic. The final scene
leaps four years into the future. The transition is awkward. Nina
is different, but Jose, with his long beard, looks exactly the same
(was he was made up to resemble Jesus?) I wondered about
the motivations of Jose as well. Is he only trying to make
up for the sin of his past?
In conclusion, one could certainly do a lot worse than Bella. I
suspect that it was made to get its point of view across, which it
does. I wish more thought had been given to the dramatic elements
and character development. As it is, I don’t imagine
the film will be a source of conversion (Metanoia is the name of
the production company) to anyone who didn’t already share
the filmmakers point of view.
Tom Condon, OP