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October 31, 2007
Column #1,366
BELLA - Unforgettable, Deeply Moving Film
by Mike McManus

BELLA is an unforgettable, deeply moving film about the relationship of two losers: Jose, the chef in his brother's Mexican restaurant and Nina, a waitress fired by his brother for being late.

Jose had been a soccer star, until he accidently killed a child who dashed in front of his car.  After serving four years in prison for manslaughter, the ex-con found work as a chef for his brother. He grew a thick heavy beard, hiding his handsome face.

When Nina was fired, Jose ran after her, and learned she was pregnant. He took the day off to be with her, though they had no previous relationship. That day changed their lives.  This touching movie won the Audience Award as the best film of the Toronto Film Festival.

At a deeper level, the movie is about the decision of what to do about an unwed pregnancy - which happens to 2.7 million American women annually.

"Have you considered adoption?" Jose asks.  It is the sort of loving question which gets asked far too rarely in our culture.

Nina replies, "No, I could not carry something in my body for nine months and then give it to a stranger." That's the reason only 22,000 infants are adopted in America out of 1.5 million out-of-wedlock births. Surely, the most loving decision hundreds of thousands of those mothers could make is to relinquish the child to a married couple longing,.but unable to bear children.

"Let's go the beach," Jose says. "I live near the beach." As they travel, Nina tells him, "The only person I would give it to is you. Right now, you are the only person I trust."

Suddenly we see them in an abortion clinic. He whispers something in her ear. She turns to him with a stunned look, then goes to the doctor. She returns teary-eyed, but viewers are uncertain what happened. Nationally, 1.2 million babies are aborted annually.

Jose and Nina visit his family's home near the beach.  It is a big, joyous family, with lots of bantering and laughing around a sumptuous meal including a younger brother and his fiancée
At one point during dinner, Jose's mother confesses to Nina, "I don't usually talk about it, but early in our marriage we could not have children. We tried everything we could."

"Mom, don't talk about that around children!" her youngest son protests

But then his cousin in Puerto Rico had a child, and we adopted this darling boy," Manny, the older brother, the up-tight restaurant owner. Their mother reflects, "I think the only difference between my three sons is the way Manny came to us."

I won't reveal BELLA's surprising conclusion.

"This film is a work of art," said Tony Bennett in presenting an award at its opening. "A work of art is very rare...lasts forever and stays in the hearts of everybody forever that sees it."

Surprisingly in its first weekend, BELLA grossed an amazing $1.3 million despite a  limited release on just 165 screens (versus 3,000- 4,000 for most Hollywood blockbusters). Why? Christians heard about the film and promoted it, giving BELLA the highest per screen average in America last Sunday.

Jose is portrayed by Eduardo Verastegui, a Mexican with a Cinderella story. The son of a sugar cane worker in Mexico, he achieved early success as a teenage recording artist.  His good looks and acting ability led to starring in five popular TV soaps and a film, propelliing him to the precipice of international stardom, when he converted to Christianity.

His faith persuaded him to refuse many roles as Latin lovers and halt personal promiscuity. "I was tired of the vanity, the ego.  I was not using my talents to make a difference," he said. "I wanted to create films that are hopeful, beautiful and uplifting - not showing darkness, but a light in the darkness."

He studied English for a year, hoping to break into Hollywood.  However, idealism has its price. At one point, Eduardo was worried about paying rent.  That's when he read the BELLA script, and with a Mexican film director fresh out of school, raised money for the low budget film which might win an Academy Award.

Tom Atwood, President of the National Council for Adoption, asserts, "It's the best movie ever in making and presenting the adoption option as a positive option.  Young people should see this movie and anyone who has contact with them - parents, counselors, ministers, coaches, teachers, nurses and doctors."

It is a film about love - not romance but compassion.

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