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An Incomplete Catholic Message

Bella reviewed by Paula S. Jacobs

Jose, a Mexican soccer champion (Eduardo Verastegui), has accidentally killed a young girl, and is suffering a serious psychological crisis. Giddy with the prospect of fame and success, he was not paying attention to his driving and the deadly accident occurred. He pleaded guilty in court and was sentenced to four years in prison. Leaving prison, he was more broken by that death than from the loss of his brilliant career. The clean-cut soccer star returns to society with a hippy look: long hair, beard and wearing a dirty chef’s jacket.

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Jose, the pre-accident rising soccer star in the film Bella
Jose’s older brother, Manny (Manny Perez), has given him a job in his restaurant. This brother was adopted by Jose’s Latino parents who at first were unable to have children, but subsequently had two sons. Now, Manny is a successful owner of a Mexican restaurant and has hired José as a chef, a job he masters and thus contributes to the successful business of his brother.

It happens that at the same restaurant, a waitress, Nina (Tammy Blanchard), is also having a psychological crisis. There was a previous illicit love affair and now, a baby is on the way. As a consequence of her condition she is suffering morning sickness, and has come in late for work several times. We know that Nina is pregnant, but Manny doesn’t. On the third day of arriving late, Manny becomes irritated, and fires her. There is a deep ingratitude in the fact that the one who has benefited from the goodness of his adopted parents does not show an analogous treatment toward the waitress.

The young woman, bordering on despair, is tempted to choose the “easiest” way, the criminal solution for her problem, an abortion. But still she hasn’t made a final decision. She is living in a paradox: How to give birth to a child that she cannot raise?

Distraught, she leaves the restaurant and Jose follows her. As the day unwinds, she confides in him, and he in her. A sort of mystical-psychological empathy develops between the two characters, the traumatized chef and the pregnant unmarried waitress. The viewer begins to realize the man who took the life of that first young girl wants to repair his action by saving the life of an unborn child threatened by abortion. And he succeeds. By the end of the day, Nina tells Jose she trusts him, and he tells her he will take the baby. Finally, in the last scene, we see Jose with a little girl on the beach. Nina’s baby, Bella, is alive, not aborted.

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Jose and Nina spend the day together
Therefore, the movie has a clear message against abortion. That is commendable today. And yes, there is an implicit Catholic presence in the film: the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a wall in Jose’s family home, the Sign of the Cross before the meal. This message is praiseworthy and I applaud it.

However, I don’t think that everything in the movie is as Catholic as it should be. What about the promiscuous behavior of the waitress? For a Catholic message to be crystal clear, a censure of her previous immoral conduct would be indispensable. Instead, the movie presents a kind of justification for it. The viewer is called to empathize with her problematic childhood, which can leave one to surmise she can’t be held accountable for her immoral action. She would be a victim of her environment. Her pregnancy would be just a by-product of her depressing and dysfunctional family life.

This absence of any censure of her past behavior that would protect the virtue of chastity before marriage cannot be approved.

Regarding Nina’s future, a final collateral problem from a Catholic perspective arises. Has her behavior changed? Did she marry? There is no clue. She arrives alone in a taxi at the very end of the film to see Bella, who is now about age four, for the first time. The message is this: She had the baby and that’s all that matters.

Therefore, the movie has only a partial Catholic message, Catholics should include some criticism in their discussion.

Posted November 12, 2007

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