‘Bella’, which receives its UK release this week, is not a new film. It was produced three or four years ago and has already been released in the USA and exhibited at international film festivals. It’s the story of three people who work in a Mexican restaurant in New York City and how their lives change over the course of a single day. One is Nina (Tammy Blanchard) a waitress who has just discovered that she is pregnant after a one night stand. One is Jose (Eduardo Verastegui), a former football prodigy haunted by a car crash in which his actions led to the death of a little girl and the other is Manny (Manny Perez), the footballer’s brother, an arrogant and aggressive fellow with issues of his own, including something of a Napoleon complex.
As we wander around New York, and then later up to New Jersey with these three people, encountering the rest of of Manny and Jose’s family along the way, there’s a great deal of soul searching over the unresolved issues in these characters’ lives. While the issues are neither unique nor universal, it’s doesn’t really the film’s seem to be the film’s intent to make them either.
(It would be possible, should you wish, to read what American politics disingenuously calls a “pro-life” position into the film’s conclusion, but this would be grossly irresponsible.) This is a story about three people and their impact on each other, rather than “Everyman”. Or indeed “Everywoman”.
‘Bella’ is beautifully photographed by DOP Andrew Cadelago (who is perhaps better known as an animator at Disney); his moving camera complements the actors’ fine, naturalistic performances beautifully and he seems to have an instinct ability to find places where light will fall into his camera at unusual angles, giving us a New York that is both striking it’s grimy reality and oddly picaresque. Writer/Director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde has provided a solid, witty, heartfelt (and multi-lingual!) script for his cast to work with and the central trio seize the opportunities it offers, especially Manny Cruz who has, due to his character being not immediately likeable, a much bigger task engaging the audience’s sympathies.
To call something “charming” is often to patronise it; but ‘Bella’ is charming. It charms you, with its warmth, performances and the honesty of the way it portrays the emotions of its characters. The amount of time its taken to reach the UK should be taken as a condemnation of how difficult it is to get non English language films released even in London, rather than as a negative comment on the movie itself.
‘Bella’ contains no surprises, but it’s a well made, well acted and thoughtful, low key movie for grown ups. Let’s be honest, there aren’t enough of those around at the moment.