BELLA (2006) - Pick
THE RED BALLOON (1956) - Pick
WHITE MANE (1952) - Pick
New this week on DVD, Bella, the debut feature from Catholic-owned Metanoia Films, is the kind of against-all-odds success story every film student dreams about. Three first-time film producers set out to make a movie with a script and no money. Shot over about three weeks, the film landed a spot in the Toronto Film Festival and won the top award, catapulting it into the spotlight and leading to a successful theatrical run.
Bolstered by engaging performances and an appealing Latin milieu, Alejandro Gomez Monteverde’s intimate, appealing debut film tells a simple, idealistic story with considerable style and charm.
Nina (Tammy Blanchard) works as a waitress with José (Eduardo Verastegui), the line chef, whose brother Manny (Manny Perez) owns the restaurant. Nina is in trouble, of a sort that would launch many movies into propagandizing about what she should do — and why viewers who disagree with a certain “choice” are bad people.
Yet instead of preaching — to her or to us — Bella listens. José’s views aren’t hard to guess, but Nina doesn’t ask him for advice, and he offers none. Instead, he offers her what she really needs: understanding, compassion, support and, ultimately, something much more.
Bella has something to challenge everyone. For pro-lifers, the inspiring ending represents a call to love of neighbor, even at a cost. For those who favor abortion, the ending is a challenge to recognize that life is beautiful even in far-from-ideal circumstances, and the choice to embrace life, even with sacrifice, is also beautiful.
Also new on DVD from Janus Films are a pair of classic family-film shorts from French director Albert Lamorisse, The Red Balloon and White Mane. Both are fable-like short stories about a special friendship between a boy and another creature — a friendship that is threatened by outside forces and, ultimately leads to a poetic, ambiguously bittersweet ending.
Of the two, by far the more familiar to Americans is The Red Balloon, the nearly wordless magical-realist tale of a young boy and a stray balloon that follows him home — and to school, and all over the streets of Paris. White Mane, set on the plains and marshlands of the Camarague in the south of France, tells the story of a young fisherman named Fulco who is able to tame the wild stallion White Mane, despite the failure of a local wrangler and his hands to break the horse.
Both films are beautifully shot, The Red Balloon in luminous color, White Mane in pristine black-and-white.
I recently watched both with my three older kids; they found The Red Balloon charming and White Mane exciting, though their ambivalence about the endings matched their response to Old Yeller. In my book, that’s no bad thing.
Bella: References to out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion; brief disturbing images; brief crass language. Teens and up. The Red Balloon, White Mane: Some menace and unsettling themes. Might be disturbing to sensitive children.