Tammy Blanchard, Eduardo Verastegui, Manny Perez, Ali Landry
Alejandro Gomez Monteverde
Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and Patrick Million
The winner of the $100,000 top prize for Best Dramatic Feature at this past weekend's 2007 Crystal Heart Awards Gala during the Heartland Film Festival, "Bella" is a sweet and inspiring, if somewhat slight, film starring Eduardo Verastegui (Mexican pop and television star) as Jose and Tammy Blanchard ("The Good Shepherd")as Nina in a story of two people more or less on the down side of life who manage to connect over the course of a day and, in the process, plant seeds of hope within one another.
"Bella" is, indeed, a familiar script with pieces of the far more delightful and authentic "The Girl in the Cafe" and, of course, the film also shares a certain resonance with the Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy films "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset."
"Bella," which also inexplicably captured an Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, is an ever so slight film that rests its lofty laurels squarely on the shoulders of its enchanting leads and their marvelous chemistry. While Verastegui and Blanchard are certainly game, "Bella" is limited in its emotional impact by a paint-by-numbers script that seems more intent on waxing poetic about a variety of issues than in character development or a truly cohesive storyline.
Both Jose and Nina work in a Mexican restaurant owned by Jose's brother (Manny Perez), at least until the morning that Nina both finds out she is pregnant and is fired from her job for being late. Jose, who is the restaurant's lead chef, ends up leaving the restaurant just before it opens to accompany Nina on a day of conversation, visiting the parents and philosophical discussions about life, love and tragedy.
Apparently, Manny's not going to fire a relative whose irresponsibility is far worse than that of Nina.
Whereas the conversations that occurred in "The Girl in the Cafe" felt remarkably authentic and naturally developed, the screenplay by Patrick Million and director Alejandro Monteverde leans toward melodramatic and manipulative. While both leads do an admirable job of bringing their characters to life, the they can't hide the soft script and unimaginative lensing.
On the strength of the performances alone, "Bella" garners a recommendation, particularly for the heartfelt oerformance offered by Blanchard. As Jose's loving parents, Angelica Aragon and Jaime Terelli also offer fine performances.
"Bella" continues to wow festival crowds and is set for a limited national release in the U.S. beginning October 26th. The film also continues playing throughout the week at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic