Director: Alejandro Gomez Monteverde
Although infinitely preferable to the sexist and conservative rants of Dr. Phil, normally I wouldn’t advise trying to glean any wisdom on how to live one’s life from the heartbreaking oeuvre of Tennessee Williams. Despite this, there is definitely something to be said for Blanche DuBois’s memorable confession, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” uttered in A Streetcar Named Desire. Not only do those words ring true more regularly than the evening news would have us believe in real life, but often they also provide a terrific springboard for creativity in the world of independent filmmaking.
From The Station Agent to Once, it seems as though we overwhelmingly gravitate towards stories in which our main character finds either their romantic or platonic soul mate in a complete stranger. Frequently this burgeoning appreciation echoes the events onscreen as audience members find themselves becoming an integral part of a steadily growing word-of-mouth movement that brings together film lovers from all backgrounds and walks of life to find truth, solace and consolation in the fact that this world is much smaller than we may think, with people who feel things in the same way as do we.
A beautiful cinematic realization of this sentiment can be found in writer/director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde’s feature film debut Bella which earned the 2006 People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, once again exemplifying the determination of filmgoers to seek out and reward works with which they identify. Primarily set during the course of one fateful New York day, save for a few wisely chosen flashes backwards and forwards in time, we encounter two employees of a restaurant who find a spark of recognition in one another.
When the pretty, young waitress Nina (Tammy Blanchard) is fired by domineering Manny (Manny Perez) after arriving late to work, despite the fact that they’re relative strangers, something in the girl’s eyes and manner speaks to Manny’s brother, the restaurant’s chef Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) who follows Nina to the subway where she reveals she is pregnant. Not wanting to leave her alone and equally drawn to her plight by the ghosts of his own tragic past which are revealed over the course of the film and refreshingly without predictability, Jose brings Nina to his family’s home.
Traditional narrative structure would have us believe that we’re watching a straightforward romance where Jose would chivalrously save the young woman from a tragic fate however just when you think you have it pegged, the film moves in another direction. Moreover, Monteverde’s intelligent screenplay and carefully chosen leads never let us forget that Jose needs Nina just as much as she needs him and Bella avoids becoming mired in a tired formula as the film evolves from a naturalistic romance to one where the romance isn’t simply to be found in the relationship between a man and a woman but one that celebrates genuine love between human beings, whether it’s classified as romantic, familial or platonic.