Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 21, 2008
Pro-life film requires viewers to dig beneath the surface
'Bella' marred by awkward moments
Tammy Blanchard and Eduardo Verastegui star in a scene from the movie Bella.
Review by LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WCR News Editor
Bella speaks to the heart - the heart that is open to love, redemption, forgiveness.
This flawed film encourages family life and is comfortable, reaffirming support for the counter-culture folk (us) who believe life begins at conception.
Briefly put, the script begins with Jose - played by an achingly handsome Eduardi Verastegui - abandoning his post as chef at his brother's Mexican restaurant during the luncheon rush to chase after Nina, a just-fired waitress played by Tammy Blanchard.
Turns out Nina has been late two days for her job and missed two days of work because - as she tells Jose through a subway turnstile - she is pregnant. Jose replies, "Do you want to talk about it?"
So the adventure begins as they plan to spend the day together. As they walk through a market, Jose bumps into a tall, thin and obvious wealthy woman that lets Nina and audience know Jose comes with a past - a past shared with the powerful and moneyed folk.
As Nina recounts her own life story of her father's death and her mother's descent into paralyzing grief, Jose goes through flashbacks - too often awkward, sometimes just plopped in - that fill us in, telling us he was a championship soccer player whose career ended when he hit a child with his car. Charged with vehicular manslaughter, Jose emerges from jail four years later and goes to work at his older brother Manny's restaurant.
Shroud of guilt
He grows his hair until it is like a shroud - a shroud that hides his pervasive guilt of killing a single mother's only child, a guilt that still imprisons him.
The two torn souls end up at Jose's parental house - a home filled with laughter, too good food, conversations that can pierce the heart. But the audience's belief system is jarred when Jose's mother, after saying she rarely tells the story, interjects her yarn of adopting Manny.
To tell what happens then would spoil the surprise denouement.
This is Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's directorial debut - a low budget enterprise shot in 24 short days in 2006.
His cameras filmed within the street theatre background of New York City - a gambit that produced a boisterous, joyous juxtaposition to the sad story unfolding between the main protagonists.
Blanchard, while one appreciates her portraying the trauma of being abandoned by her boyfriend ("Take care of it," he told her when she said she was expecting) and losing her job, is sadly unconvincing until the story hits Jose's family home.
That's also when the audience laughs and tears slide down cheeks.
Lack of continuity
Gaffes mar this film. Example. Continuity jars when Nina, still at the beginning of the story and seeing abortion as her only option, tosses her cigarette after two puffs. The butterfly image, smashed when the child is killed by Jose, and flying high in the sky at the film's conclusion, is pedestrian, contrived.
(Don't worry about the Spanish subtitles. They are almost incidental.)
Bella won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006. Yet critics such as New York Times' Stephen Holden dismiss the film as "a saccharine trifle" and a "mediocre cup of mush."
But actually a glimpse below the surface shows Bella uses the catalyst of unresolved grief -- Nina's mother's loss of her husband, Nina's loss of her father, mother and childhood, Jose's loss of a child's life and his career, Manny's loss of his biological parents - as the drama's driving force, a tragedy that seemingly is healed by the birth of a child.