Screen format: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
First released: 26 October, 2007
DVD released: 6 May, 2008
Director: Alejandro Monteverde
Starring: Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard. Manny Perez, Angelica Aragon, Jaime Tirelli, Ali Landry
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 91 minutes
Subtitles: English & Spanish
Bella is the improbable tale of Nina (Blanchard), a waitress in a Latino restaurant (in NYC) who discovers that she is pregnant, and is fired from her job due to being late. She is joined on a day of discovery about herself and the meaning of love, family, passion and redemption by Jose (Verastegui), the brother of the restaurant’s owner Manny (Perez). Jose himself has a troubled past, he narrowly missed being an international Soccer Star due to a freak accident where he killed a little girl who ran into the street in front of his car, and somehow went to jail for this.
Sounds contrived? Sure is, and then lets add on top of that a visit with a blind artist on the street who gives out his wares in exchange for verbal descriptions of the action surrounding him, visits to the beach where Jose is treated like a creep, an enormous feast prepared by Jose’s mother (Aragon), the history of a car that hasn’t been driven in decades, and the overarching agony Nina goes through as she contemplates her choices with regard to her new pregnancy.
Perhaps I’m being unkind, but I found the story a mess, the thinly veiled moral messages a bit hard to handle and the redemptions earned completely unlikely. It’s not all bad tho, as there really are some terrific performances despite the wobbly plot, especially as far as Jose’s family is concerned as they are removed from the emotional arc that Nina and Jose careen on and are allowed to really bite into their roles. As noted below the soundtrack is really a star here too, and the cinematography and ethnic flavor that holds it all together are lovingly crafted. This is obviously a film that sprung from the writer/director’s need to tell a very personal story that could only have been made as an independent film, but all of the good qualities that it contains just don’t make up for the blunders in the script and the characters I really couldn’t identify with or care all that much about.
Sound Quality: 4/5
The soundtrack here is an inspired mix, with a special standout in the choice of Rosemary Clooney’s ‘Sway’, which I had somehow never heard before but really found mesmerizing, and the rest of the very varied tracks explore some very different latin beats. I can’t even recall the additional new music provided by Stephan Altman as I don’t have a track listing, so it is difficult to tell what to make of that except that there were a number of low key instrumental pieces that didn’t keep my interest.
On the mix side of things there is also good news as there is plenty of action in the rear speakers, which wouldn’t immediately be expected in such a drama, but it is there from start to finish and both music and effects are well imaged. There is minimal bass with the exception of the single thump during the accident and what little is present in the musical score.
Visual Quality: 3.5/5
New York City and what I presume is some part of the northern NJ shore both look great in this film, as do all of the close-ups of the actors which are sharp, detailed, and free of major artifacts, however I did notice a bit of edge enhancement in many sections and I am not usually bothered by it. There aren’t a whole lot of scenes where the color comes bursting through but when the sun is shining in the outdoor segments especially in the convertible driving during the opening there is some real nice saturation. This is a clean print and I did not note any scratches or other damage.
Extra Features: 2.5/5
There are five extras worth talking about, starting with a feature length commentary track which I have so far avoided. There is a 20 minute long Behind the Scenes featurette which deals mostly with Monteverde’s efforts to work outside the Hollywood mainstream and make the movie he wanted to make with no compromises. There is also an extensive look at the troubles this film had in getting distribution despite winning viewer acclaim and many prestigious awards, and this also touches on the role the Goya company played in getting the film seen. There is also a music video by Alejandro Sanz who seemed reluctant to even get involved with this film and finally there is the original theatrical trailer and a number of TV spots.
Overall: 2.5/5 (not an average)
If nothing else I liked the soundtrack to this film and want to hear more by those who are featured in it, and I definitely appreciated the fact that there were real meaty roles for Latinos to portray here, which even today is not all that mainstream. Other than that I didn’t really find myself as impressed with it as much as many other critics and festival goers must have, so maybe I’m the exception here but it just wasn’t a film I got into.