Friday, June 6, 2014

#1,390. Bella (2006)

Directed By: Alejandro Monteverde

Starring: Eduardo Verástegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez

Tag line: "True love goes beyond romance"

Trivia: Won the Crystal Heart Award for Best Dramatic Movie at the 2007 Heatland Film Festival

Written and directed by Alejandro Monteverde, Bella so impressed audiences at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival that they gave it the People’s Choice Award. And after watching the movie, I can definitely see why. Telling the simple tale of a man and woman spending the day together, Bella has just the right amount of heart to make it a worthwhile experience.

A former soccer superstar whose career ended before it ever began, Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) is now the head chef at a Mexican restaurant owned by his perfectionist brother, Manny (Manny Perez). When Nina (Tammy Blanchard), one of the restaurant’s waitresses, shows up late for work, Manny fires her on the spot. Feeling sorry for her, Jose follows Nina into the subway and discovers the reason she was late was she had just found out she’s pregnant. On a whim, Jose decides to take the day off from work and spend it with Nina, who, frightened by the prospect of becoming a single mother in New York City, says she’s thinking of having an abortion. After a morning of strolling through the city, Jose invites Nina to his parents’ beachside home, where, over the course of the evening, the two will open up to each other, discussing their turbulent pasts as well as what the future might hold for them.

While the story itself is a simplistic one, the issues Bella tackles during its 90-minute run-time are anything but (aside from Nina’s unwanted pregnancy, the movie also explores, in dramatic detail, the tragic event that forced Jose to give up soccer). The real strength of Bella, however, is the affection director Monteverde has for his characters, all of whom are expertly portrayed by the film’s marvelous cast. Hiding behind a thick beard, Verastegui displays a warmth we seldom see in modern movies, one that allows Jose to connect with Nina on a very intimate, yet wholly unromantic level (Its important to note that Bella is not a romance; it’s a character study). Even more powerful is Tammy Blanchard’s turn as Nina, who, despite trying to appear strong, breaks down and cries more than once. Also shining in their brief roles are Angélica Aragón and Jaime Tirelli as Jose’s parents, whose love and support have guided their son through some very tough times. Along the way, we even learn a little about Manny, including why he’s such a bastard to work for (in the end, we kinda like him, too).

Those who have attacked Bella, calling it pro-life propaganda, are missing the point; it’s not a political film any more than it is a romance. Bella is the story of two people coming to terms with their lives, and doing whatever it takes to put things right. An often sweet motion picture that doesn’t shy away from the darkness, Bella is an absolute joy.

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