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Bella

starring Eduardo Verástegui, Tammy Blanchard and Manny Perez
written by Patrick Million and Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and directed by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde
rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing images.
70%

Nina (Blanchard), a waitress at a small Mexican restaurant in New York City, has been late for work a lot lately, and her boss Manny has had enough. When she finally arrives on this particular day, he fires her on the spot, not knowing she’s just discovered that she is pregnant. He also doesn’t expect his brother Jose (Verástegui), the restaurant’s star chef, to walk out after her. At first merely concerned for her well-being and sorry for his brother’s reaction, Jose soon decides to spend the day with Nina after she tells him her news. And when he finds out Nina doesn’t plan to keep the baby, he hopes he can talk her out of it, even if it means dredging up painful memories from his own past and changing the course of his future.

Bella is a very simple story of two people together on a day that may change both of their lives, or not. It’s so simple and straightforward, in fact, that I was caught off-guard by the lack of any sort of twist or climax. There is only this relationship, quietly and carefully played to it’s natural conclusion. One might almost be tempted to say there isn’t anything to the movie at all. The final scene (which jumps forward several years) is almost anti-climactic. It answered questions I hadn’t asked and raised new ones that left me dissatisfied and unsure.

This movie is not unwatchable. The performances are open and genuine. The people on the screen felt very real to me (so much so, actually, that I kind of wanted to leave them to themselves and go find something else to watch). However that may be, I did admire the acting. Indeed, the entire production was very solid in its efforts to project the story onto the screen, despite being noticeably unprofessional. Bella is a small-scale production, and it shows, but (to me at least) this served to reinforce the intimate setting it created. In short, there is good technical work serving what I felt was an extremely mediocre story. However, I am a bit constrained in trying to describe why I felt that way. There is so little here that very small revelations could give away 91 minutes of screentime in a flash.

Suffice to say that I rather enjoyed the first half (give or take) before Bella had revealed how weak its hand actually was. Eventually, though, there comes a moment which both the ongoing story and various intermittent flashbacks have been building deliberately and inexorably up to. I give nothing away when I say that it involves the death of a little girl in what should be a very meaningful and emotionally powerful scene, the turning point of the movie in every possible sense. For me, it just wasn’t. It was (in retrospect) set up clumsily, and handled mawkishly. Moreover, it didn’t have any noticeable impact on what followed. I got off the ride, emotionally, at that point and watched, largely unmoved, as it continued to its destination. I wasn’t forcibly caught up by anything that transpired. I felt that the film was trying to exploit its audience’s sentimentality in a very transparent way, and I didn’t like it. The movie’s title, when you eventually discover what it means, turns out to have been poorly chosen, though I certainly don’t envy anyone the task of titling a film so devoid of any real unity or purpose.

I will admit that I admired Bella for it’s values, which were at least superficially pro-life without being anti-choice (to borrow a distinction emphasized by Peter Chattaway in his recent review of Juno). Having won various audience awards at film festivals, it is being touted by a variety of Christian groups as something of a cinematic coup d’etat for life-affirming values. Quite honestly, 2007 has been full of such themes, and we can do better. There is no convincing and reasonable philosophy of life present here, only an argument from pure emotion based on artificially-induced tragedy. The most interesting questions it raised came from my own half-bored ruminations, and were tangential at best. This is not a movie that is particularly memorable or meaningful, and it does not possess nearly enough entertainment value to make up for that lack.

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~ by Jared on December 7, 2007.

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