Yesterday, my parents and I chose not to observe the holiest of American holidays (Black Friday), but instead went to see the movie Bella (trailer at bottom of post). I hadn't heard of it before, even though it won the People's Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, but my dad had seen producer and star Eduardo Verastegui interviewed on The O'Reilly Factor, and it made him very excited to take us to see it.
A lot of buzz about the film centers around the fact that it has a strong pro-life message, and that the Hollywood liberals won't give it a very good distribution. Maybe it's hard for me to look beyond my own beliefs on the matter, but I really don't understand how someone with any political association could view this film as detrimental. Bella absolutely is pro-life, and it is also pro-choice. It gives an honest portrayal of a couple of key characters, and does not judge them, in the end. In the film, Nina is fired from her waitressing job on the same day that she finds out she is pregnant. Her friend Jose, the chef at the restaurant where she had worked, spends the day with her so that she will feel less alone. (Spoilers below, not that it really matters...)
At the beginning, Nina feels that she has only one option, one choice, and that is abortion. She seems resigned to the fact that she could not possibly provide a good life for a child, having been conditioned to feel that way by the unsatisfying life she led with her distant mother after the death of her father when she was a child. Jose also seems to feel that his life is without options at the beginning of the film, as his happiness and innocence left him the day years ago when he killed a young girl with his car in a tragic accident, ending her life as well as his promising soccer career. Jose's brother Manny, who fires Nina, is stuck in a rut as well, taking people for granted and focusing only on the successes and failures in life - missing out on the joy of the world around him. Throughout the course of only two days, these three characters all experience profound change in their lives, and it is a beautiful sight to witness.
When Jose is able to show Nina that families can be happy, by introducing her to his own loving one, it opens up her eyes to the fact that lives change, and people can amount to so much. Jose's mother and father are immigrants who have been able to make an extraordinary life for themselves, and raised three successful sons. While Jose's mother explains to Nina that they adopted their first son, Manny, Jose himself comes to the realization that helping Nina bring her child into the world - even by asking her to let him adopt the child himself - is exactly what he needs to do in order to be whole again. Still haunted by the child whose life he took years earlier, Jose has come to deeply value human life, which is so precious, and can be so easily lost.
Realizing the change occurring in his brother, Manny is able to learn some of the same things that Nina does, which is that there is pleasure to be found every day as long as we open ourselves up to it. The transformation in all three characters is believable, and beautiful, and refreshingly affirming to see in an independent/foreign-ish film nowadays. In my opinion, the film is strongly pro-choice without being pro-abortion, and pro-life in the respect that we are wasting our valuable moments on earth if we do not take a moment to stop and appreciate all that we have. Cathartic scenes in a garden, on a beach, around a kitchen table, and on a street talking with a blind man all bolster this aspect of the story.
Despite Verastegui's Passionate Jesus-beard which he wears in all the non-flashback segments of the movie (and a shame, because he's way hot), I didn't find this movie to be too preachy or religious at all, something I am usually highly sensitive to in pop culture. The Puerto Rican / Mexican family of Jose and Manny prays before eating, which is about as churchy as the movie gets, and even less than a similar family would be in real life. I highly recommend this film to anyone older than a preteen, and I really feel that it will make you think a little more about how much time you spend worrying versus enjoying life.