Bella (no stars)
It’s phenomena like Bella that make critics feel disaffected and icky. How could such a film gain such incredible audience adoration? It was one of the top 10 highest-grossing independent films of last year, and won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, where it was greeted with teary-eyed standing ovations. Still, at the risk of sounding misanthropic, anyone who adores Bella is a dimwit with horrible taste.
Bella is about José (Eduardo Verástegui), a young soccer superstar who gives up the game after a horrible accident, becoming a line chef in his brother’s New York City Mexican restaurant. The film is a day in his life, a day he shares with Nina (Tammy Blanchard), a waitress at the same restaurant who is fired before the lunch rush for being late. We know from a preceding, cliché scene in which she angrily throws a test stick in the sink that she’s pregnant. José goes out of his way to help comfort Nina, and the rest can be summed up by Bella’s gag line, er, tag line: One person can change your life forever.
What rankles most is actually not Bella’s populism but its pretensions to being an innovative work of art—and an uplifting, humanist one at that. It is neither, full of amateurish stylistic tricks and manipulative lessons about never giving up on life. The latter, especially within the context of Nina’s pregnancy and contemplation of abortion, can seem sinister. The name of the film (after Nina’s unborn child), a pivotal revelation regarding adoption, a schmaltzy butterfly motif, and even Verástegui’s Jesus beard all reek of pro-life propaganda. Bella, whose marketing campaign shamelessly touts it as the little film that could, proves yet again that “indie” does not equal quality. Indeed, few contemporary Hollywood studios would dare push a product as clumsy and soppy as this.
Bella is now playing at the Cumberland (159 Cumberland St.), the Sheppard Grande (4861 Yonge St.) and Canada Square (2190 Yonge St.).