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By Harry Forbes
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- It has been demonstrated that many women and girls who find themselves expecting a child and believe they have no options often change their decision to end the pregnancy if only someone shows an interest in them, or allows them a sounding board for their fears and concerns.

So it may be with Nina (Tammy Blanchard), an unmarried New York waitress who must decide what to do after becoming pregnant at the beginning of the sweetly sentimental drama "Bella" (Roadside).

Her whip-cracking boss, restaurant owner Manny (Manny Perez), has fired her, not even knowing Nina's pregnant and that her repeated lateness was related to her condition. On this particular morning, she had stopped off to buy a home pregnancy kit and confirmed the problematic news. Manny's brother, Jose (Mexican soap favorite Eduardo Verastegui), the restaurant's long-haired, straggly bearded chef chases after the dejected young woman when she drops one of her belongings on the street.

In conversation through a subway turnstile, she reveals her situation, prompting the empathetic Jose to abandon his culinary duties -- sending hotheaded Manny into a rage -- and take the unhappy Nina around the city where, in their ramblings, they encounter one of Jose's old girlfriends, and have lunch at a trendy restaurant run by another female friend. Nina begins to see that there's more to her scruffy protector than meets the eye.

Eventually, he takes her to the suburbs to meet his Mexican-Puerto Rican parents (Angelica Aragon and Jaime Tirelli) and kid brother Eduardo (Ramon Rodriguez), who brings his new girlfriend to supper. (There's a nice scene where Eduardo coaches his girlfriend to say grace in halting Spanish to impress the folks.)

During this visit, Jose reveals his life story to Nina, glimpses of which we have already seen. Jose had been a rising soccer star but his career ended abruptly after his car fatally struck a child, and he was sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter (why -- one wonders -- since it was clearly an accident and the little girl had run out into the middle of the street?).

Still wracked with guilt, he well understands Nina's emotional fragility. Throughout the day, he gently tries to persuade her to keep the baby, but their relationship stays resolutely platonic.

Director and co-writer Alejandro Monteverde's feature film debut is, it must be said, sometimes dramatically slack and implausible, and rather overly pat in its plot resolutions, though the ending is not quite the expected one.

He nonetheless handles his cast with great sensitivity, and is particularly adept at staging the personal scenes, which comprise most of the film. Despite his hirsute appearance for most of the film, Verastegui telegraphs great warmth from his dark eyes, and Blanchard -- who played the young Judy Garland in the 2001 Judy Davis TV film -- gives a terrific performance, her honest emoting helping overcome plot improbabilities.

"Bella" is also unusual, admirably so, in presenting such a positive depiction of a Latino family, even if at times Jose's folks seem too good to be true.

Above all, the film has an affirmative pro-life message, along with themes of self-forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption that should resonate deeply with Catholic viewers.

Partially subtitled.

The film contains a couple of crass words, a child's death, a drug reference, and, the out-of-wedlock theme aside, is otherwise admirably free of objectionable elements. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Forbes is director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.


Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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