Lionsgate // 2007 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // May 12th, 2008
One moment can change your life forever.
Alejandro Monteverde's directorial debut Bella took home the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and I can easily understand why the flick is a real crowd-pleaser. It tells a heartwarming story about two lonely individuals trying to escape their miseries, offering audiences plenty of saccharine moments and a whole lot of reasons to burst out crying in front of the TV screen. Sappy as it is, however, the film is certainly a watchable experience, and if you choose examine the evidence below, you'll see why.
The film first introduces us to Jose (Eduardo Verastegui), a talented soccer player who could become the next international superstar. But on his way to sign a multi-million dollar contract, he's thrust into a terrible tragedy that will change his life forever. Fast-forward to a couple of years later, and Jose works as a chef in his brother Manny's New York City restaurant. Also working in the restaurant is Nina (Tammy Blanchard), a charming waitress who just recently found out she's pregnant. When Manny fires her for being late again, Jose spontaneously drops his knives and pans to run to her rescue, inviting her on a one-day trip that will give both individuals the chance to confront the past and gear up for the future.
Bella could have easily fallen victim to Hollywood's obsession with incredibly cheesy dramas stuffed with implausible twists and over-the-top characters, but Alejandro Monteverde carefully avoided these traps, creating instead a sincere film that carefully approaches its thematic without making big statements or killing its credibility. Sure, this all sounds wonderful, but the film does suffer in other areas, which I will save for later. Let's first talk about the good stuff. This is quite an entertaining drama, and the film's 92 minutes will go by quicker than you think. The plot operates at a fast pace throughout, following our two main characters as they spend one entire day consoling each other. As a film centering on two strangers finding an opportunity to speak openly about their miseries, Bella works great.
What I also appreciate is that the film does not suffer from too much predictability. It is clearly not a love story, and I can tell you right now without ruining anything that Jose and Nina won't make out at the end. That's simply not the issue here. The film is also neither pro-life nor pro-choice, although Nina's opinion about her pregnancy and Jose's point of view may at first suggest otherwise. Essentially, the movie is solely about its characters, observing in detail how they feel about themselves and their lives. The countless discussions Jose and Nina have focus entirely on what they've been through and what their future times may look like. Monteverde doesn't point at his characters' flaws. We know they've messed up before and try to make up for it, and being able to talk somebody about a troubling past is the first best step in making a change. And that's exactly what Jose and Nina are trying to do.
Monteverde is a dab hand at directing, and his passion for his actors can be seen in the many close-ups he provides. On a similar note, the cast does a great job as well. Although he looks a bit threatening and at the same time excessively sad with his massive beard, Eduardo Verastegui is a charismatic actor who fully commits to his role as lead character. He shares a solid chemistry with the great Tammy Blanchard, who undoubtedly carries the film on her shoulders. It's a real shame we don't get to see her on the big screen more often. I'm convinced both of them have a great career ahead of them.
The video transfer on the DVD is clean and clear, and the picture quality is top-notch throughout. As far as the sound is concerned, the dominating dialogues are well balanced with the film's limited soundtrack. I have no complaints whatsoever about the technical aspects of the film.
Besides an interesting music video featuring a song by Alejandro Sanz, the bonus material on the disc also includes a 17-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, in which cast and crew members discuss the film's major themes and supply viewers with a little bit of footage from the set. It's an informative piece because it provides a lot of information about the film itself and the main characters, including comments by the cast about working with Monteverde. Captivating also is the six-part documentary ÒBehind the Journey of Distribution,Ó which showcases the producers' struggle to get the film distributed. For those of you who thoroughly enjoyed the film and would like to find out more about Monteverde's techniques and passion for his project, his feature commentary should come in handy. I have to admit I didn't watch the whole thing, but he tends to go into great detail about setting up the scenes and pointing towards the numerous challenges he and his crew encountered during principal photography. He's quite enjoyable to listen to.
Despite all the good I mentioned before, Bella stumbles across a few minor flaws every now and then. The main problem I had is that, from a global point of view, the film remains rather simplistic. The characters sure have a lot of tragedy to share, but some of what they have to say lacks certain punch. Instead of being pulled right into the action and connecting with Jose and Nina, I sometimes felt indifferent about some of the things bothering them. Maybe I expected some of their dialogue to be more subtle and intricate, but it turns out that their intimate conversations remain simplistic and obvious. I also had trouble connecting with Jose's family members. The film clearly stresses the importance of family and how family can help you make good choices, but somehow the script doesn't supply these characters with enough captivating dialogue and personalities. Most of what they say everyone would expect them to say, and their behavior is at times quite predictable.
Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, I had some troubles with the film's excessively sentimental side. There's a lot of crying and hugging that could have been approached more subtly, but then again, it's sometimes easier to let all the pain out via tears, right? This is more of a personal observation, and not really something I can blame Monteverde for. By and large, however, the film tends to be more saccharine than not.
Bella is a solid first film, and I hope Monteverde will eventually get a shot at showing off more of his talent to us cinemagoers. The fact that this drama was well received by audiences is definitely a good start. While the story shows some weaknesses as the main characters stroll through the day listening to each other's troubles, the cast makes up for a lot. I really prefer people loving this rather than some of the brainless Hollywood trash we've been seeing lately.
Not guilty, but it was close.
Review content copyright © 2008 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Director's Commentary
* Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
* Behind the Journey of Distribution Featurette
* Alejandro Sanz Music Video
* Official Site