Often overly sentimental but executed with enough grace and charm to make this a heartfelt drama.
Often overly sentimental, but executed with enough grace and charm to make this a heartfelt drama.
Winner of the Toronto Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award in 2006, Bella
has taken its time finding a cinema release. Hard to fit into any one
genre, it is a visceral experience that delves into themes of death,
life, religion and forgiveness. At the fore of these is a thinly
shrouded commentary on abortion that, while unnecessary, does not
intrude on an otherwise interesting character drama.
Jose (Verastegui) is a chef in his brother Manny’s (Perez)
Mexican restaurant in the heart of New York. When waitress Nina
(Blanchard) arrives to work late Manny decides to make an example of her
and fires her. When Jose hears this he takes Nina on a day trip through
the city and out to see his parents. As the two bond, Nina reveals she
is pregnant, while Jose sees a chance to set right a mistake he made
years before when he was a hugely successful football player.
As feature film debuts go, Bella is certainly an impressive calling card for director Monteverde.
By allowing the story to unfold in parallel time lines, one before and
one after Jose’s accident, Monteverde is able to raise curiosity in the
audience’s mind. He takes this even further by etching an almost
dreamlike state with a vibrant, yet tranquil, colour pallet. His
shots are often tight on the characters and happy to languidly follow
them through their day. In doing so Monteverde makes the story secondary
to the characters and the emotions they both feel and project onto the
The script does at times feel akin to a soap opera with the dialogue
often trying too hard to evoke pathos. In one scene, a homeless man
stops Nina and asks her to describe the day to him. It would work if it
didn’t seem so forced and maudlin in its timing. Where it does work is
in moments that speak volumes by saying nothing. The scene in
which Jose and Manny settle their differences is done via nothing but
eating and playful sibling jostling, making for a more moving moment
than injecting some of the otherwise clunky dialogue.
Blanchard brings an air of desperation to the role of Nina. Often
looking like she is on the verge of tears Blanchard is an actress to
empathise with. As Manny, Perez is a thousand words a minute restaurant
owner. It falls slightly into the realms of stereotype but towards the
end you see an emotional centre to the role that Perez plays to warm
effect. However, it is Verastegui who takes much of the acting plaudits.
A damaged soul is always apparent in his gentle sensibility and it is
through him you are drawn into the drama and heart of the film. Though
we do not find out towards the end what Jose’s mistake was it is always
painted, even engraved, on his face.
Bella is a film that is desperate to gain an emotional response from
the viewer and on the whole it succeeds. The ending is a huge emotional
boost for not feeling the need to conform to the obvious resolution. A warm and affectionate ode to life and the decisions we make Bella is affirming in its ability to emote.