Eduardo Verastegui and Tammy Blanchard as Jose and NinaBella takes place on a typical weekday in New York City, where everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere, oblivious to the troubled woman who doesn’t make it to work on time. Nina (Tammy Blanchard), a waitress in an upscale Mexican restaurant, is overwhelmed by the discovery that she is pregnant, and stares at the test in disbelief, as the clock ticks. Arriving late to work the second day in a row, she gets into an argument with Manny (Manny Perez), the restaurant owner, and is fired. Jose (Eduardo Verastegui), Manny’s brother, who works as the restaurant’s chef, goes outside to see what the trouble is, and impulsively follows Nina into the subway, abandoning the lunch shift and offering to help her find a job.

The emotional complexity of Bella far surpasses the formulaic plots which have lately stunted romantic drama in Hollywood.

At first, things are awkward between Nina and Jose, who despite working together, are virtual strangers, but soon their journey takes on a life of its’ own.

Jose, whose eyes are haunted by tragedy, begins to see the beauty in life — which he, in his grief, has missed — thanks to an outspoken blind man who asks Nina to describe in detail what she sees. The conversation between the couple deepens as they leave the city and Jose finds himself admitting the source of shame he has carried for four years, the tragic mistake which cut short his promising career as a professional soccer player. This searing disclosure stuns Nina and challenges her assumptions about where her own life is going. She discovers there is more than one tragedy stalking the residents of New York and risks becoming hurt in another relationship.

Eduardo Verastegui, popular Mexican pop-star and television novella actor, breaks free of the playboy stereotype of his first Hollywood film, Chasing Papi, by playing the reclusive, vulnerable Jose. Tammy Blanchard is compelling as Nina, the hardened New Yorker. The pair’s riveting chemistry is one reason why Bella won the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. The emotional complexity of Bella far surpasses the formulaic plots which have lately stunted romantic drama in Hollywood, and which, light on plot, tend to rely too heavily on body heat and star power for interest. The audience is challenged to reconcile recurrent flashbacks, discerning between fantasy and reality, piecing together events in a demanding intellectual style reminiscent of a Bergman film.

The lighthearted interaction of veteran actors Angelica Aragon and Jaime Terelli as Jose and Manny’s parents presents an engaging view of Latino families rarely depicted in Hollywood, where family dysfunction, violence, and juvenile delinquency are seen as the norm. Bella was awarded the Legacy Award for emerging talent by the Smithsonian Institute Latino Center for contribution to Latino culture, and won high praise by Latino icon Edward James Olmos at this year’s Miami International Film Festival.

Visually impressionistic, with edgy cinematography, and jarring cross-cutting camera technique, Bella is interwoven with evocative ethnic imagery, which, supported by a powerful score, insures that the impact of the film will remain with the audience long afterwards.

Bella is the first feature film of director Alejandro Monteverde, a childhood friend of Verastegui, who, with former Fox business manager, Leo Severino, formed an independent film company called Metanoia Films. Their aim was to create films which have a positive impact on society.

In their first attempt at a film together, the three amigos have achieved cinematic gold. Look for future productions of Metanoia Films, and don’t be surprised if Bella follows in the footsteps of Life is Beautiful, another Toronto Film Festival award winner, and gets in line at this year’s Oscars.

Leticia Velasquez is a homeschooling mother of three, part time college professor of English as a Second Language and writes in her spare time.