BELLA (2006), written and directed by Alejandro Monteverde, is in theaters now in Hong Kong after making its rounds in film festivals. For a so-called independent film, it is shot beautifully and has some real production value. It looks slick like a film that must have cost about $500K to $1 million U.S. dollars.
It's an earnest work that clearly has good intentions. Despite this, the film suffers from a very poor script and doesn't transcend that fundamental flaw.
Basically, the film is a long introduction to two characters, a chef and a waitress, who have experienced sadness and grief. For the first 50 minutes, the film trudges along as an "I've got a secret" story. It's clear the protagonist is still agonizing about some dark event from his past and that is why he is drawn to the pregnant waitress.
Until the dark secret about his past is revealed, the film is content to show the two main characters mosey about during the course of a day at various iconic settings in and around NYC (riding the subway, walking through a street fair, talking to a homeless man...) talking to each other.
By the time that dark secret is finally revealed, the audience has lost all interest. The film and its characters don't give the viewer any reason to care other than that one is pregnant and the other broods a lot and once was a star soccer player. It's a shame because the character of the fallen soccer hero is one that holds real possibility for drama.
Ultimately, this film manages to bore and insult the audience. Insult how? An independent movie should show some truth. This movie fails to do that.
The only thing that rings true in this film is the portrayal of a hectic high-stress kitchen of a Mexican restaurant in NYC. Nearly every other detail rings false. Just because a film has sadness and grief as its topic and doesn't have explosions doesn't automatically make it some kind of independent film gem. This film is clear evidence of that.
How this film managed to cross the Pacific and reach Hong Kong screens while far worthier independent films that deserve to be seen and gain recognition never manage to do so is a real mystery and a shame.
LIST OF MOVIES Made by independent filmmakers for less than $100K that are more compelling and show real vision that have yet to win theatrical release or wide distribution and definitely have not played in Hong Kong:
1) AFTER THE APOCALYPSE (2004) by Yasuaki Nakjima
2) YORICK (2002) by Jonny Stranger
3) FUNNY HA HA (2002) by Andrew Bujalski
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