I had read several endorsements for the new movie “Bella” from the Rebelution and other places, but had a feeling it wouldn’t be playing in my area. I was excited when my mom discovered it was in a theater only forty-five minutes from us! She and I sneaked away from the house this Friday night and took a girls’ night out. We saw the movie, and I thought it would be good to write a review. WARNING: There may be some spoilers, though I’ll attempt to avoid them.
When the movie started, my first thought was, “This is going to be weird.” The camera angles are very strange (there was actually a scene that gave me a touch of motion sickness). The scenes seem fragmented, skipping around from one scenario and decade to another. However, there is something about it that grips you. Maybe it’s just a desire to know
the history behind what makes these unusual and angst-ridden characters the way they are. As the plot developed, its scene-skipping and odd camera work did not decrease, but gradually faded into the background, giving way to an engaging story.
Jose is the head chef at his brother’s upscale restaurant. With a painful past he keeps carefully hidden behind an overwhelming care for others, he is the subject of a lot of worry from his family and friends. Your introduction to this character is a full bearded, long haired man in a loose shirt and jeans. My first thought was, “That looks like Jesus!”
Nina is a waitress at the same restaurant, embittered by life and jaded towards love, family, and the value of life. She has found herself pregnant by a man she doesn’t love and, just after that revelation, quickly fired from her job. Shattered, with nothing to hold onto and no family to fall back on, she desperately accepts Jose’s offer of friendship.
That starts a day of walking about the city together, exploring both of their painful pasts as he quietly and gently counsels her on what to do about her pregnancy. My image of Jose rarely strayed from my first impression: a Jesus figure. The allegory is not seamless, and there are plenty of things that are not characteristics of my Savior. However, I was struck by Jose’s passion for hurting people, his gentle rebukes, and his loving, gentle counsel. His eyes, deep and expressive, are constantly filled with the pain of his burden for this young woman and her baby.
Nina was a hard character to like in the beginning, so hardened and callused. She never established herself completely in my affections. I pitied her, I wanted to see her helped, but I could not latch onto her character with any love. Perhaps that’s what makes Jose’s care for her so Christlike. She was unlovable, and he loved her enough to give up important things (like his job). With each kind thing Jose did for her, each way he showed he cared, she softened just the smallest bit, opened up, and began to trust.
One of my favorite things about this movie was its vagueness. While you know Nina’s situation–pregnant, unloved, alone, fired–you don’t see much more of her life than the one day the film highlights. You never meet other people from her life, or even hear mention of them, outside of those from her job. It emphasizes her loneliness. Jose’s past and family are important to the film, so more of his life is included, but you only see what is necessary in fragmented bits and pieces. What could have been a film disaster, this inability to get to know the characters’ lives as a whole, becomes a poignant device to let you relate to the characters more than would be possible if you knew their history. Nina is not a character by herself; she stands for single mothers, children of dysfunctional families, broken-hearted women, and orphaned daughters. Jose is not a definitive person; he represents people with shattered dreams, sons of strong marriages, children in adoptive families, older siblings, sensitive listeners, wise counselors, guilt-ridden lives, and victims of tragic accidents. In each and every character, there is a piece of us. Because we do not have a complete picture of the lives of the characters, we can associate our own struggles and strengths with theirs. This brilliant device, hard to pull off but powerful when it works, draws you emotionally into the film.
Finally, throughout the whole movie, the themes of the sanctity of life and compassion for others is prevalent. It comes through in the characters’ thoughts and actions. We have the glaring contradiction of a pregnant woman saying, “I can’t deal with a kid. I have to take care of it,” and shortly thereafter saying, “I can’t carry a living thing in my body for nine months and then give it away to strangers. That would be worse than anything.” It points out to us the selfishness of abortion and the fact that people do know in their hearts that it is wrong. The care that Jose and his family show for Nina, a woman most of them hardly know, shows Christlike compassion and hospitality. For a movie in theaters today, it is shockingly bold and positive on the importance of family, love for others, the priority of people over money or success, and the need for companionship.
All in all, I was very impressed with this film and would recommend it to anyone. It is not a “feel good” movie, and I left feeling sobered, even slightly depressed, but sometimes you need that kind of reality check: people are suffering out there! It’s not a simple or entertaining film and is confusing in parts. I would watch it again, but it’s not one of those movies you feel you can pop in the player for fun. Watch this movie. If you can, go with strong Christian friends and discuss it on the way home. Someone with a gift for it could write a good study guide for it. Once it comes out on DVD, watch it with a Bible study group and spend some time discussing what was good and bad about it, what messages you thought were strongest or best, and anything you did not understand.
This film definitely lives up to its name: Beautiful.
By the way, it’s playing at Loewe’s theater in the Rio in Gaithersburg, MD. If you go there, the Hamlet is a good place for dinner and their slice of chocolate cake is almost a foot tall! Six people could eat it comfortably–my brothers loved my leftovers.