Nina (Tammy Blanchard) is a waitress at a Mexican restaurant. After arriving late for work (due to picking up a pregnancy test kit) she is fired by the manager. The head chef, Jose (Eduardo Verástegui), goes after her and, finding that she is indeed pregnant decides to spend the day with her, a day during which they both come to find out much about each other’s past, present and future.
Bella took its bow at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, picking up the People’s Choice Award in the process. It received a limited UK release in the autumn of 2010 and now finds its way onto DVD. Many (myself included) will have heard little or nothing of this film, but do not let that put you off – this is a little gem, well worth a look.
The direction by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, in his full-length feature debut, is assured but with a light touch. There are no flashy touches, no quirky angles or effects, just a straightforward, hand-held (but not distractingly shaky) style that allows us to see each person’s face in detail. We feel engaged and involved and this proves absolutely essential as the stories of Jose’s and Nina’s lives unfold. They are each beset by considerable pain and we are able to see this in their eyes and their subtle facial expressions. The overall effect is heart-breaking at times. In one sequence which seems to be an imagined future event we see Jose and Nina in a clinic, he whispers in her ear, she sees a doctor and returns to collapse into his arms, her face contorted in pain and gut-wrenching sadness.
The acting by the principals is outstanding. Although Verástegui has a couple of English-speaking TV credits, much of his work has been in his native Spanish and he moves between the two in this film easily. His is a quiet, but sorrow-etched performance and as his back-story is filled in his pain is effortlessly portrayed. Tammy Blanchard (Rabbit Hole, The Good Shepherd, Stealing Harvard) has just as much emotional heavy lifting to do and in a story that offers no easy answers or pat resolutions, just agonising decisions and difficult lives, she manages to communicate the weight of her life without becoming bogged-down or depressing. The lighter moments are genuine and affecting and help to leaven the revelations of past hurt and pain.
The supporting cast perform well, including Manny Perez as Jose’s brother and the restaurant manager and Angelica Aragon and Jaime Tirelli as his parents. The sequence towards the end of the film, when Jose takes Nina to meet his family, proves perfectly judged by director and cast. The backstory of the family helps Nina decide whether to keep her baby or go through with a planned termination, but the subject is handled in a realistic and subtle way, avoiding the trap of this becoming a polarising “issue” movie.
Although I came to Bella with no idea what to expect, I came away having enjoyed as uplifting, affecting and heart-warming a film as I have seen in many months. It comes highly recommended and you can grab it from LoveFilm here. Enjoy the trailer below, which starts off so-so, but winds up capturing the tone of the film excellently. Bella is out on DVD to rent and buy now.
Extras: Director’s Commentary, Behind the Scenes featurette, Distribution featurette, Trailer.