If you want to learn more about Bella
] otherwise continue reading for my review....
I first heard about Bella
back in February when reports started circulating that a small production company named Metanoia Films
had come away from the 2006 Toronto Film Festival with its coveted "Peoples Choice Award" (previous films to win the award include Chariots of Fire
and Life is Beautiful
In the following months it won several more awards (source
), and regularly receives rave audience reviews at its early screenings (source
This weekend Bella
opens in select theaters across America. You can see a list of the cities (32 total, and growing) where Bella is in theaters right here
. I was able to see the movie in advance and have reviewed it. First, here the trailer:
AmericanPapist's advance review of Bella:
Bella is a breath of fresh air in a stale movie atmosphere. It is positive and thoughtful tale without being forceful or preachy. It is a story about real people going through pain and finding a way out. It is tale about humans, our modern world, and what makes the world human.
The story focuses on two characters. Jose, an ex-soccer star who has experienced a horrible tragedy that still haunts him, and Nina, a struggling woman in New York who has recently discovered that she is pregnant. Bella takes place during one day during which their lives intersect and they learn how to help each other.
Like most great movies, it defies simple categorization: the best way to understand it is to watch it and let it work its magic. Nevertheless, a few points can be brought out.
While life-affirming, Bella doesn't sugar-coat or ignore the hard facts related to its subject matter. Particularly through the conversations between Jose and Nina, both sides of the abortion debate are given their time. Nina uses every excuse in the book, but they don't come across as excuses - they reveal real anguish and difficulty. Jose, on the other hand, doesn't lecture her. He never says explicitly in words what he thinks. He acts. He is a silent, stoic individual who provides a listening ear, a caring heart, and an understanding mind.
I think it's no accident that Jose's appearance through most of the film is starkly similar to the typical portrayals of Jesus. He has a great grizzly beard, piercing eyes, and a rugged demeanor. The question "What would Jesus do?", and even "What would Jesus look like?" find a contemporary and authentic answer in Jose. Eduardo Verastegui plays the character effortlessly and flawlessly. He makes virtue look easy, albeit hard-earned. Tammy Blanchard puts forth a tour-de-force performance. In contrast to Verastegui's coolness, her character sobs and shakes with the full force of the desperation she is feeling. Her world is falling apart, and you feel it.
The movie teaches in an unassuming manner, and it's extremely effective. Instead of transparent storytelling where it is obvious what the movie wants you to think, Bella's careful understatement slips in truths about human nature, compassion and redemption in a blink of an eye. In this way it mirrors life (which rarely provides a director's commentary or helpful moralizing narrators).
For instance, Nina is prone to think the worst of the world and its inhabitants. And indeed, there is much in her life that would condition her towards pessimism. Then she witnesses a spat between a small store owner and a customer. While she reacts to the situation superciliously when the store owner realizes that he has been wrong in accusing the customer, she would have done the same. Recognizing that there's some goodness in the world doesn't happen all at once, but it can happen within a single day.
The movie provides a wide spectrum of personalities. Jose's soccer coach is a professional promoter, dedicated to profit and the pursuit of its pleasures. Jose's ex-girlfriend and past-acquaintances reveal worldly facets of his prior life that he has given up as a self-punishment for his past. Jose's eldest brother, the owner of an upscale restaurant where he works, reveals another path that people take in search of happiness - even if it means taking advantage of his unfortunate brother. The interplay between Jose and his older brother is particularly redemptive.
On the other side, Jose's family is good. Not perfect, but functional, loving and caring. Nina is as much converted by Jose as by his family. In this point particularly, the movie refuses to discuss abortion in a vacuum. The crucial attitudes about and experiences of family life account both for Nina's plight and Jose's safety net. Taking Nina into his family is the first way Jose reaches out to her and also begins his own appreciation of how blessed he has been, despite whatever misfortune he has suffered.
Bella is not only a great story, it is well told. The cinematography, musical score and pacing all support the "worldview" it presents. The musical score is very moving (they should really consider releasing it separately, I'd buy it). The cinematography is gorgeous, with most scenes shot in rich hues that all the more set apart more somber sequences. I especially enjoyed the cinematographic style which spliced normal time with flashbacks and hypothetical future events.
Again, this artistic choice has a meaning. In this case, the single day which constitutes the timeframe of the movie is dependant upon the decisions and experiences of the past as well as open to diverse futures that are in the process of being evaluated. As a consequence, the stakes for each decision made durin the day are raised. Truly, the stakes couldn't be higher: there is a human life at stake, and the happiness of many more.
Bella's pacing might at seem times slow, but don't let that mislead you. It's progress is measured to prepare for a climax that sneaks up on you and, if you haven't been watching closely, will surprise you. What at first glance might be dismissed as a wasted day, where we might want much more said and demanded, becomes a providential ordination of events that yields a result so beautiful that only life could provide.
If Bella is beautiful, it's because life is beautiful. And it is. +++
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Labels: american papist exclusive, amp movie review, Bella, Catholic culture