Alejandro Gomez Monteverde’s Bella (2006) is an emotional, well acted film about mistakes and second chances. The story follows the entwined lives of three people: Jose (Eduardo Verástegui), a former footballer whose dream of making it into the professional leagues is taken away by a terrible accident; Manny (Manny Perez), Jose’s adopted brother, who wants to prove himself and his entrepreneurial talents; and Nina (Tammy Blanchard), a young woman who is trying to escape the gloom and hopelessness of her family life.
After giving up on their dream, Jose and Manny now run a Mexican restaurant where Jose is the acclaimed head chef while Manny efficiently manages the staff and menu. One day, Manny has to fire one of their waitresses, Nina, after she turns up for work late one time too many.
What Manny doesn’t know, however, is that Nina has just found out she is pregnant. His decision to dismiss her triggers a bigger crisis than he thought, as Jose leaves the restaurant to run after her, hoping to be of help, and Manny is left to handle the night’s reservations on his own.
The story, told very delicately but with great awareness of human flaws and the unpredictability of life, is set against the backdrop of the city of cities, New York, that huge melting pot where millions of lives collide everyday and cohabit despite their differences. “That Chinese guy was speaking Spanish” – Nina says, in between bewilderment and admiration – “just a typical New York moment”.
Indeed, parallel to Bella’s story is the representation of how two different races and cultures – White and Hispanic – live together despite their differences. Jose and Manny are Latinos, but have grown up and are perfectly integrated in a White dominated society. When Jose takes Nina to his parents’ house, though, the difference is evident, especially when his father expresses his pride in being a Mexican: “my family speaks Spanish. If you want to talk to me, you have to speak Spanish”.
Monteverde’s film features some impressive acting performances. Particularly intense is Tammy Blanchard, who plays Nina with her understated, uncorrupted beauty and seemingly effortless ability to render her contrasting emotions.
Bella is a simple yet profound story that delivers without trying too hard, and manages to avoid the seemingly inevitable clichés by remaining coherent to itself and resisting the appeal of a mainstream happy ending. The message it sends speaks to everyone: many things in life cannot be avoided nor fixed, but it doesn’t mean we cannot forgive (ourselves and others) and create a life for ourselves.