REVIEW – In the era of the big-budget blockbuster movie, it is hard to find a film that doesn’t rely on explicit sex, violence and car chases to draw in audiences and make money. It’s always refreshing to find a good film with a simple story that still has mass audience appeal. Such a movie is Bella.
Bella focuses on a young woman, Nina (Tammy Blanchard), who works as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant in New York City. The movie follows her on a day when her life has hit an all-time low. She is in the midst of a crisis, has no one to ask for help, and, to top it all off, gets fired from her job.
Enter Jose (Eduardo Verástegui), the restaurant’s chef. Jose’s brother Manny (Manny Perez) owns the restaurant, and Jose watches Manny fire Nina for tardiness and missing work without asking for an explanation. Jose, who carries some demons himself, recognizes Nina’s desperation and follows her from the restaurant.
So begins Nina and Jose’s day-long trek through the jungle of the Big Apple. The location provides a chaotic atmosphere that complements and contrasts the two characters’ turmoil.
At one point, Nina stops in front of a blind homeless man who asks her to describe the view in exchange for one of his junk creations. Nina lights up for a moment while talking about the mess of the city.
The movie is not all depressing. Arguably the best scene in the film is the family dinner at Jose’s house. The alternating funny, sweet, embarrassing and heartbreaking antics of his parents and younger brother illustrate the “sentimientos fuertes” that people associate with their families – good or bad. It is when he is with his family that the mystery of Jose is resolved, and some of the revelations the parents have about their sons provide an unexpected and emotional twist.
The enthusiasm from audiences and Hollywood hotshots regarding Bella should hardly be surprising. Monteverde impressed audiences during his undergraduate years at the University of Texas, when he set the record for the most festival wins by a student for his first short film Bocha.
He later broke that record with Waiting for Trains, which won awards at seven major festivals, including the New York International Film Festival. Bella surpassed both those honors when it captured the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, beating out such films as Babel and Borat.
Even after positive audience responses at the festival, major Hollywood studios doubted the movie’s profit-making ability. To prove them wrong, the filmmakers used grassroots campaigning to spread the word about Bella. The movie has sold out in theaters across the country.
At its heart, Bella is a story about relationships and the bonds of family – and what happens when those bonds are broken. At the movie’s start, Nina and Jose are wanderers. Both characters are looking for ways to cure their pain, but each person approaches it in different ways. In reaching out to each other, they are able to find some sort of peace.
Mary Elizabeth Coyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.