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Cinema in Focus: ‘Bella’

Amid darkness and difficulty, dignity and grace can shine brightly.

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

We all know that when a child is killed accidentally, the mother is inconsolable in her grief. But we often don’t stop to think about what happens to the person responsible for the accident. How dooes he or she live with the guilt and remorse? The weight of what has happened — even if an accident — is crushing. How does one make up for such a loss? Those are the questions that fuel the award-winning film by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde  entitled Bella.

With compelling authenticity, the film weaves the past, present and future of two broken people into a complex pattern of redemption. The two are opposites, not only in gender but family background. The man is Jose (Eduardo Verastegul), a handsome soccer player whose family raised him with love and faith. The woman is Nina (Tammy Blanchard), whose father died when she was young and who, at that same time, lost her mother to a grieving alcoholic depression. The brokenness in Jose’s life occurs on the day of his celebration for having been signed to play professional soccer. Driving with his manager to an interview, they become lost and happen to drive down a residential street when a young girl playing hide-and-seek with her mother darts out between two cars. Not even knowing what they hit, it soon becomes clear that they killed the little girl. Her grief-stricken mother attacks Jose and the courts convict him of involuntary manslaughter and send him to prison. After his release, Jose works as the chef in his brother Manny’s (Manny Perez) restaurant, covering his grief with a long beard and hair as he struggles through each day.

Nina’s brokenness comes from her longing for love and a family, which compelled her to leave her mother’s home as a teenager and begin seeking love elsewhere. She becomes a waitress in Manny’s restaurant and has sexual relations with a man she thought loved her until she becomes pregnant. The man’s response is for her to "take care of it." Having no faith of her own and caught up in what she defines as a hopeless place, Nina decides to abort her baby. It is then that Jose and Nina connect.

We won’t tell all that happens in their journey together, but it is clear their souls are reaching out to one another. Nina has a child she is considering killing, although she desperately wants a family, and Jose is haunted by the child he killed and desperately wants redemption. But neither has the language to communicate their deep needs, either to themselves or to each other. Their only hope, which they intuitively choose, is to walk together in their pain. Jose takes Nina home to meet his family and lets her sit in the car that he was driving when the accident occurred. Nina takes Jose into the abortion clinic and lets him sit beside her in the waiting room where she weeps in preparation. Both are drawn into another place that begins a profound healing of their souls.

Bella‘s beauty is in the dignity with which people live their difficult lives. That we can find trust and love in one another as we share our lives is what this film "beautifully" displays.


1. The anger with which Manny lives his life comes from somewhere deep within. Where do you think it comes from?

2. The use of symbolic form to communicate their pain is resplendent in this film. What symbols spoke most to you: the butterfly? the knife? the walk-in cooler? the angel on the hood? the younger brother? the father’s Spanish? the seashore? the trees planted with bound roots? the Spanish dress? the father’s teddy-bear? the scarf? Others?

3. The final scene gives little explanation of what all happened between Jose and Nina. What do you think happened? Why do you think the director chose to give no explanation?

4. Has there been a moment in your life when something happened that changed the direction you were going? Was that change for good or for ill? What are you doing now to build upon or redeem that moment?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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