Past pain etches itself on the facial canvas where life has met death.  No words can prepare one in advance of seeing this film. Tenderness for life within the province of agonizing trauma is perhaps a fitting description.  It is important that in a review the ending not be “given away” in a movie such as Bella.  And yet, it is the ending that allows celebration of humanity in a way not generally seen on the big screen.

If one is in the mood for trite sentimentality, this is not the film to see.  Alejandro Gomez Monteverde’s directorial debut gives the viewer the gut-wrenching performances of Eduardo Verastegui (Jose) and Tammy Blanchard (Nina) who continue to live the results of awful experiences.  It cannot be said enough that soulful sorrow resides in every scene.  Verastegui’s full beard, present throughout most of the picture, is the physical presence that attempts to hide what his eyes cannot.

Working together in a restaurant operated by Jose’s brother Manny (Manny Perez, chewing up every scene he is in), Nina and Jose end up spending the day together as Manny’s Latin machismo gets the best of him, firing Nina for being late.  Jose is the head chef in the restaurant but leaves in a flight of compassion to follow Nina after she is released.  The viewer wonders what is so compelling that one person would leave his workplace for another to offer solace for a whole day.  There is a symbiotic relationship that exists between the two co-workers—an understanding that both Nina and the audience only understand in the end.

Flashbacks reinforce the impending conclusion.  Moviegoers are allowed to see slices of Jose’s past that have etched his present remorse in every muscle in his face.  It is perhaps Jose’s past that establishes his kindness in the present with his colleagues in the kitchen where he creates food people come from all over to taste.  In a sense, Jose has thrown himself into his work as penance for what no confessional can offer.  Clearly, Jose’s interest in people as people has blossomed from the blood-field of his personal history.

Jose’s family provides a cocoon for the two sojourners during their day together.  While mom and dad (wonderful, heartening performances by Angelica Aragon as Jose’s mother, and Jaime Tirelli as his father) berate their son for abandoning his brother, they love as parents should, without condescension or belligerence.  Nina’s conversation with Jose’s father is the story’s climax, pressing us to remember what is most important in life.

Shades of pain paint this story.  Yet it is the compassion that draws us, that compels our viewing.  The ending is both satisfying and abruptly obnoxious: be ready for it.  But one cannot help but celebrate the wonder of conscience and sacrifice through redemption whose cost cannot be counted, but whose life can be shared through Bella.[1]

Rated PG-13 for adult situations, traumatic events, and some language.

Mark Eckel, Dean, Undergraduate Studies, Crossroads Bible College

[1] For the background to Eduardo Verastegui’s story see Tim Drake. 2008. Behind Bella. (Ignatius).

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