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Bella

Reviewed by Heather West

"...finds a way to tap into the emotions of the audience."

Picture this: A young celebrity stands on the brink of international success. Suddenly, through a strange twist of fate or Providence (you decide), he has a spiritual epiphany that transforms his heart and changes his life forever. This scenario basically sums up the life of Eduardo Verastegui, the Mexico-born musician, model and actor who starred in Fox's Chasing Papi in 2003. Incidentally, it also describes the life of Jose, the character he plays in the movie Bella.

Perceived as a fledgling independent work, Bella stunned many when it took top honors at the Toronto Film Festival, but the film's greatest achievement will always be its intensely personal approach to filmmaking. The character-driven story makes plot inconsistencies seem insignificant; what happens is less important than who interacts and why.

Bella is essentially a random-crossing-of-paths story, taglined with the phrase "one person can change your life forever." Familiar as that sounds, the genre gets a fresh take thanks to writers Alejandro Monteverde and Patrick Million. At the start of the film, Jose is the head chef of his brother's prestigious New York city restaurant. He works alongside Nina, the young waitress who is secretly coping with an unexpected pregnancy. Jose's sympathies are ignited when his brother Manny (Manny Perez) fires Nina for tardiness, and he decides to help Nina and her unborn child find a new life. However, as Jose soon finds out, Nina is determined to keep her "freedom," even if it means aborting her child. "I can't have this baby and watch it suffer with me," she admits to Jose, a week before her visit to the abortion clinic.

Jose's quest to save Nina and her child from despair takes both of them on an inspiring journey through the streets of New York, and as far as the peaceful shores of Long Beach. But Jose eventually realizes that in order to gain Nina's trust, he will have to reveal the truth about his own past, and face the terrible mistake that turned his dreams of fame and fortune into nightmares.

Using a combination of flashbacks, flashforwards, and voice-overs, Bella keeps you guessing at every turn, even though there is very little action going on. The scenes progress from hour to hour over the course of a single day, many of them were filmed with a hand-held camera, which serves to bring the viewer closer to the actors. In some scenes, due to the work of cinematographer Andrew Cadelago, the audience becomes the performer, seeing things from his/her perspective. But in every scene, whether through the technology of its crew or the artistry of its cast, Bella finds a way to tap into the emotions of an audience. Yes, Bella is also a religious work, produced by the up-and-coming Metanoia Film company. But the underlying moral and spiritual lesson are only powerful because the film has already reached out on a personal level, and has done so with grace and beauty.

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Heather West is a sophomore English and Communications major, who firmly believes in the concept of the Renaissance man (or woman, in her case). In that vein, her interests include everything from piano, Broadway, and gospel choir to snowboarding, missionary work, and filmmaking. Her writing is inspired by her reading; her favorite authors are Brian Jacques, Bill Myers, Timothy Zahn, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kenneth Grahame, Chaim Potok, Isaac Asimov, and Lloyd Alexander. While she aspires to be a novelist and screenwriter, Heather equally enjoys journalism, particularly in the areas of film and music. Her dream job is creating clean, thought-provoking media that will point people back to God. She has written for Infuze Magazine, more recently for SoulAudio.com, and is thrilled to start writing for TitleTrakk!