Bella – DVD Review

bella
Available at Amazon.com

You’ve never heard of Bella? That independent movie that swept the festival circuit earlier last year, winning the People’s Choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival and then slipped quietly in and out of theaters a few months later. Bella is that movie touted as the highest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes in 2006. Still haven’t heard of it? It was in theaters for four months. I know the phrase has been overdone lately with “mainstream indie” films such as Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, but Bella really is the little indie film that could.

As the movie opens, Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) is a huge soccer star. He is young and proud of his newfound success and wealth, yet he is still reserved and has a kind demeanor. Flash forward several years and he is working as the head chef in his brother’s restaurant in New York City. A waitress at the restaurant, Nina (Tammy Blanchard), arrives late to work one day after discovering she is pregnant and her war general boss Manny, claiming that this is her second time to be late, fires her on the spot. Jose, seeing the opportunity to help Nina, rushes after her, abandoning his restaurant during lunch hour. Jose and Nina haven’t been social outside of work and the day begins awkwardly as they get to know each other. Nina confides that she is pregnant and Jose begins his personal mission to change her mind to abort the unborn child.

While this may seem a blatant Pro-Life or Pro Choice move for the film to take, it never sounds preachy or offensive in any way. Clearly Nina wanted to have an abortion and decides for herself the future of her and her child. The dialogue in the film doesn’t suggest a preference for either path, but the entire film’s message is about family and the joy of life. Personally, I didn’t take anything in the film as propaganda. Nothing is presented in that way. The topics in the film are not sugar coated versions of the real thing. To explore all of these topics would be to give away some of the best parts of the film and I will not do that. I will however say that Ali Landry, the 1998 Doritos girl, can really and truly act. She gives an extremely memorable performance in the film.

Ali Landry’s real life husband, Mexican born American Alejandro Monteverde, directed the film in his debut. The directing and cinematography are breathtaking. This is not just another I Love New York City kind of movie, the scenery shows different parts of the city not so often explored by other filmmakers. We see quaint restaurants and street fairs; we see shorelines and beach houses. All of this is lit perfectly to accent the brilliant sunlight, complimenting the sunny outlook the film gives on some tough topics.

Other than Ms. Landry, the film’s cast is comprised of relatively unknown actors. Latin TV star Eduardo Verastegui plays Jose and gives him a very sweet and gentleness that is very believable. I would have preferred he shave or, at the very least, trim his beard though. He reminded me of Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ and his bushy facial hair was really distracting. Tammy Blanchard, while she won’t be winning any Best Actress awards any time soon, was very convincing as the troubled waitress. She was pleasant to look at and gave a sweet performance.

The only gripe I have with the movie is the ending. It leaves too many important questions unanswered and only makes one of the main characters seem more selfish than portrayed within the earlier parts of the movie. But while the ending makes one of the characters more unlikeable, it makes the other character that much more special. Upon a second viewing I was more accepting of the ending, but the first time around, it just struck the wrong chord with me.

Despite this minor flaw in storytelling, I still really enjoyed Bella. The characters and the situations they find themselves in are easy to relate to. The cinematography is beautiful and the soundtrack is infectious with its acoustic Latin music. Bella is a movie to lift your spirits. Its message of the importance of love and family is one that everyone will enjoy.

1.85:1 aspect ratio, Dolby Digital surround sound, Spanish subtitle option.

A Behind the Scenes featurette that includes interviews with every member of the cast and the director about casting, how the actors prepared for their roles, and how the movie was made. This really shows the passion of everyone involved, especially Monteverde and Verastegui.

A series of featurettes under the title Behind the Journey of Distribution:

Introduction – Video of the announcement that Bella has won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Bella’s Story – The producer talking about how inspired he was by the story.

Goya’s sponsorship – No not the sequel to Goya’s Ghosts, this featurette shows how Goya, one of the biggest Spanish food companies, completely backed Bella. They loved the story and the positive portrayal of the Spanish community. They wanted everyone to see this movie, even purchasing tickets and giving them away to underprivileged families.

Heartland Film Festival – Video of Monteverde’s acceptance speech for the Best Dramatic Picture at the Heartland Film Festival.

Conclusion – The producer talking about how during the first weekend of Bella’s theatrical release, it made the highest dollar amount per theater of any other movie that weekend. And then it went on to remain in theaters for four months.

Bella’s Music Video: Not really a music video, but it features musician Alejandro Sanz talking about how much the story touched him and he really wanted to get his music in the film somehow. The song playing over all of this is “En la Plantga de tu ples”.

The previews included with this disc are mostly older releases, which was odd. I guess they wanted to feature films that were the same type? Akeelah and the Bee, Away From Her, Girl with the Pearl Earring, Pride, and Midnight Clear.

Also included is the domestic theatrial trailer, a Spanish language TV spot, a thank you list, and a very interesting director’s commentary.

After watching the extras, I gained new appreciation for the film, especially the characters of Jose and Manny. I’m now confident in my recommendation that this film is heartfelt and genuine and will lift the spirits of everyone who watches it. Had I not had to review this movie, I would probably had only watched it once and forgotten about it. It is a sweet movie, but as passionate as the filmmakers and the audience is for this movie right now, it will most likely be forgotten in a few years.

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Lions Gate presents Bella. Directed by Alejandro Monteverde. Starring Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez, and Ali Landry. Written by Alejandro Monteverde & Patrick Million. Running time: 91 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: May 6, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.