Bella is one of those films that tricks you into thinking you understand it – and not in a good way.
The premise is simple enough, if not a little fanciful. Nina, a New York waitress played by Tammy Blanchard, is fired from her job after not wanting to admit that she is suffering from morning sickness caused by her pregnancy. The baby is unplanned, and her world seems to be collapsing around her – but worry not! For she is about to be saved by the gorgeous and somewhat-saintly José, played by Mexican model, singer and actor, Eduardo Verástegui.
Nina pouts her way through a day of beach trips and unrequited kindness from the steely-eyed José, pausing only to sob through a pointless story about her relationship with her mother. To be fair, there are a series of unfortunate appearances from José’s stunning lady-friends – he used to be a footballer doncha know – and she’s stuck in a ridiculous novelty dress for the majority of the film.
José, working the silent and exotic look, seems to have fallen for the dowdy, pregnant and downright miserable Nina, and whisks her off to meet his family. They are warm and loving and loud – because this is what some families are like, you see? Even if you’ve had a horrid upbringing like poor old Nina, some families are just lovely!
But wait, there’s more. It turns out that José’s brother is adopted! That’s right, welcomed into a happy family with good family values – how nice. It’s not the most subtle film I’ve ever seen…
It’s bizarre, because Blanchard’s previous roles have been interesting – like, really interesting. She played Matt Damon‘s deaf lover in the 2006 film, The Good Shepherd, followed by a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder in a remake of the 1976 television film, Sybil. She also played Amy Roberts, the widow of a murderer, in the made-for-television movie Amish Grace, and recently appeared alongside Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. This depth-free role, where Blanchard plays little more than an ungrateful mope, just doesn’t add up.
Perhaps then, this film is better explained by taking a look at the involvement of the hunky Verástegui. Before appearing in his first film, Chasing Papi, the actor undertook voice-coaching lessons to improve his English pronunciation. His coach was a committed Catholic, and whilst being tutored Verástegui reportedly re-discovered his faith and vowed to change his lifestyle. Since then, he has refused roles which conflict with his beliefs and gone on to develop his own pro-life organisation.
Metanoia is a production company co-founded by Verástegui – and it’s first film is Bella. Suddenly it all makes much more sense. Well, a little more, anyway.
However, don’t expect any of this to come across in the film itself. Verástegui brings much-needed charisma to this relatively common on-screen dilemma, but he looks so much like Jesus that I was half-expecting his character to reveal his divine identity at any minute. The ending is not what you expect – but like I said, this isn’t an exciting or enlightening moment, but rather one that leaves you confused and unsure. Bella‘s attempt at closure should be uplifting, or at least comforting, but Alejandro Gomez Monteverde’s direction choices mean that it falls flat at the final hurdle. What could have been an intelligent look at a difficult moral choice is approached with a vagueness and naivety that will no doubt leave the majority of viewers feeling disappointed.