DVD Picks & Passes

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.

Content advisory

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.