BELLA opens with a flashback to a confident young man named Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) who is poised to become a major soccer star. The film then flashes forward to the present day, and we see Jose working as a chef in his brother Manny's (Manny Perez) restaurant. A swaggering athlete no more, he has camouflaged his striking looks with long hair and a thick beard. When his hot-tempered brother fires a waitress for showing up late, Jose makes the spontaneous decision to walk off the job and go check on her. He catches the young woman, Nina (Tammy Blanchard), just as she is about to board the subway, and she reveals to him that she is pregnant. Worried for her, Jose suggests they spend the day together, and the two set off for a long, meandering jaunt around New York City. Previously only workmates, they slowly open up to each other over the course of the day. He brings her out to Long Island, where she meets his warm and loving family, and it's there that he tells the tragic story about what derailed his once promising athletic career. They bond with each other in a deeply intimate, though platonic way, and by the film's end, Jose and Nina have a lifelong connection to one another.
Director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde paints a gritty but lively picture of New York City, and he peppers the film with scenes of subway turnstiles, sidewalk artists, and corner bodegas. In doing so he creates a rough but very real portrait of the city. While BELLA grapples with some pretty heavy themes, it is ultimately a feel-good tale, with a strong emphasis on the importance of family, and on the human potential for change and atonement.
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