By JANE WILSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published November 1, 2007
“Bella” is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. Director Alejandro Monteverde coaxes emotional performances from his stars to tell the story of two lost people who find direction during one life-changing day together.
The primary action in “Bella” takes place over the course of one day. Waitress Nina arrives at work to find that she is fired for her repetitive tardiness. The head chef, José, tries to talk to her about her plight, and, when he discovers that she has been late because she has just found out she is pregnant, he impulsively offers a sympathetic ear. The pair spend the day wandering around New York City, talking about their lives. Nina’s predicament is a difficult one; the baby’s father is not in the picture, she is just barely making ends meet as it is, and she sees no way to cope with her situation other than to have an abortion. José is disturbed by her decision, but he is sympathetic and tries to offer her alternatives.
Back at the restaurant, José’s disappearance does not go down well. Manny, the restaurant’s owner, is also José’s brother, and he alerts the entire family to Jose’s disappearance. As Nina eventually learns, José has a tragedy in his past. He has only just begun to put his life back together, and his family is easily worried about him.
As José and Nina walk and talk and eat together, a strong bond is forged between them. In these unusual circumstances, they are able to open themselves up to an entire range of emotions, from joy to love to despair. They are two lost souls who happen upon each other at just the right time, and they are able to help each other to heal from the hurt they have experienced.
Eduard Verástegui as José and Tammy Blanchard as Nina strike a nice note of soulful intensity without going overboard into maudlin emotion. Verástegui is a bit over-the-top as a Christ-like figure, with his overgrown (and slightly distracting) hair and beard, but he radiates a believable inner anguish as the troubled José. Like Christ, he serves as a shepherd to Nina, whose outer strength and inner vulnerability is admirably presented by Blanchard.
“Bella” is the first film produced by Metanoia films, a production company owned by Monteverde and Verástegui, among others. The stated intention of Metanoia is to create films that “make a positive difference in the world by promoting stories and characters that inspire and change people’s lives.” “Bella” remains true to this vision, creating characters that are easy to care about in situations that are easy to believe.
Faith plays a part in the story, too, as several characters are shown praying and as the film carries a positive, subtle pro-life message.
In addition, familial love is a very large part of the story as well. José comes from a strong and very supportive family. He describes how they stood by him in his time of need, and it is clear that they are there for him even for the day-to-day trials he still faces. When José and Nina go to visit his parents’ home, it is presented as a place filled with love, joy and laughter. As José’s parents, Angélica Aragón and Jaime Tirelli are a joy and a comfort to watch. They radiate good will and concern throughout their scenes, and they set an example of positive family values. Even the “villain” of the story, Manny, José’s brother and Nina’s impatient boss, turns out to be not quite such a villain once we know his story and see his reaction to the developments that take place around him. As Nina tells him, José is very lucky in his family.
Although “Bella” was shot on a low budget, the action and the dialogue seem real and thought provoking. Some quick-cut camera work, mostly at the beginning of the movie, is unnecessary and distracting, however. It takes a while for the story to get moving, and this editing adds to the sense of confusion. Once the movie hits its stride, however, the story and the characters take over, and, by the end, it generates a valuable lesson—to take redemption and assistance wherever you can find it, even if it comes from a most unexpected source.
“Bella” is not a lighthearted movie, but the ending is truly joyful, showing how the souls of two people have been forever changed by the magic of human kindness and love.
Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.