Bella a Good Choice for Life-Affirming Entertainment
- Thursday, May 08, 2008
DVD Release Date: May 6, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: October 26, 2007
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and brief disturbing images)
Run Time: 91 min.
Director: Alejandro Monteverde
Actors: Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez, Ramon Rodriguez, Sophie Nyweide
Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) is a professional soccer and telenovela star about to sign a $2 million deal. On his way to the press conference, he is involved in an accident. Flash forward a few years, and Jose is now working as a chef for his brother, Manny (Manny Perez), in Manny’s New York City restaurant.
Nina (Tammy Blanchard), one of Manny’s servers, is shopping for a home pregnancy kit. By the time she buys it, uses it and discovers she’s pregnant, she is once again late to work. Manny has no idea Nina is pregnant, much less that the reason she’s been missing work is her morning sickness, so he fires her. Jose witnesses the incident and takes off after Nina. He learns of her predicament then, despite the fact that he’s head chef and it’s the noon hour, Manny’s busiest time of day, spends the day with her.
Jose takes Nina home to his parents, where she encounters the quintessential food-and music-loving Latino family. With no relatives of her own, Nina is shocked at their warmhearted welcome, as well as the love they so freely express for one another, but she quickly adapts to the genial environment. Meanwhile Jose, who has been trying to persuade Nina to keep the baby—despite adamant protests that she’s getting rid of it—begins to reveal his past. And what a past it is.
Writer-director Alejandro Monteverde has garnered numerous awards for this independent film, and rightfully so. Bella won the prestigious People’s Choice Award (audience favorite) at the Toronto Film Festival. It also took home a Crystal Heart and the Grand Prize Awards at the Heartland Film Festival, as well as Official Selection designation at the Austin SXSW Film Festival.
Both the writing and the direction are strong, and subtleties abound. This is significant, given that subtlety is not something in which Christian filmmakers tend to specialize. Perhaps the fear lies in not laying out the gospel, word for word, theological concept by theological concept. But even Jesus didn’t do that. Not only did he speak in parables, the equivalent of story format, but his tales were so obscure that his own disciples couldn’t even figure them out (Mark 4:13). He had to explain their meaning in private.
Monteverde’s film is a lot like that. If you want to see the pro-life message, it’s there, in living color. But if you aren’t thinking “issues” or “religion,” and you simply want an inspiring film with great acting and great direction, this is your ticket. Sure, most of the erudite film critics will call it sappy and point to the movie’s inconsistencies—a legitimate critique. A few times, you see a motive or a legal issue being glossed over. But everyone loves a good story. And for once, this one doesn’t fall prey to the Hollywood cliché.
Both Verastegui and Blanchard do an excellent job with their roles, and it helps that the handsome Verastegui has been uglied up with a Jesus-like beard (coincidence?). The other actors are equally good, and the film moves at a fairly good clip. The editing is somewhat jumpy, with some needless (and confusing) cross-cutting. The cinematography, while solid, is not particularly remarkable. But the direction makes up for all that—especially its symbolism. A blind man hawking origami, who talks about the gift of sight. A sign that says, “God closed my eyes. Now I can see.” A lifeguard reference. They’re all rich and, like the story, very pregnant with meaning, and they add a lovely depth to the narrative.
I don’t know Monteverde’s religious background (Roman Catholic-phobes, beware—characters make the sign of the cross), but it doesn’t matter. His film doesn’t contain crude language, sex or violence (save a deadly accident). It also affirms the gospel in many ways. And, it’s fabulous entertainment. You’ll watch, expecting a date movie. In the end, you’ll be smiling—and perhaps even crying—over its moving message of love, hope, reconciliation and redemption. And that’s what makes a Christian film “Christian,” in my book.
- Audio commentary with director Alejandro Monteverde
- Behind-the-Scenes featurette
- Behind the Journey of Distribution featurette
- Alejandro Sanz music video
- Theatrical trailer and TV spot
- Drugs/Alcohol: Characters drink wine during one dinner scene.
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: None, save the fact that a main character is single and pregnant.
- Violence: A deadly accident, shown off-screen, with a brief flash of bloodied victim.
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