bella

By now you’ve likely heard all about the new movie Bella. Believe it or not, I hadn’t seen the movie till last Friday; somehow I managed to miss all 7 or so opportunities for an advance screening.

So what did I think of the movie? I liked and enjoyed it. It was heartfelt, genuinely moving at times, had moments of humor and grace and was all-around humane. The performances were good, especially Tammy Blanchard as a single mother-to-be. It was filmed with care and style. No bitter aftertaste, really. I’m glad it was made and the artists involved have a right to be proud of what they achieved.

I received several requests asking me to endorse / publicize the movie, but I wanted to see it first. I’m not of the opinion that it is a “must-see” film, but it’s definitely worth seeing. I wanted to encourage these artists, so I paid for my ticket as a show of support/solidarity. I know a few of the people involved in this project, and I look forward to seeing even better things from them in the future.

Here are my criticisms of the movie, mostly from a story point-of-view. I did feel it was too long, for the amount of story presented. It would have worked better, in my opinion, as a short film. As a feature, I felt the parts of the story left untold were excessive… which I might not have noticed if it were a short. Without getting into spoilers, I’ll just say that the character arc for Eduardo’s character was pretty much unexplored — and the largest part happened off screen and before the main narrative. I would have found his character more interesting if there were character flaws — things he had to overcome — but nothing of the sort really surfaced… All we know about his former life is that he liked soccer and dancing and had a lot of money… not really character flaws. Maybe a bit of an inflated ego. Later he no longer dances, plays soccer or has money… he’s a simple bearded man, a cook, and a generous, humble soul. How did it happen? Not many details here. But to be fair, it’s not his film — it is more about Nina (Tammy Blanchard) and her choices. Again, her choices happen pretty much offscreen, so we’re left with before and after moments (a bit of a story problem, to my mind — but I suppose you could see it as a device). I liked her character more, because she had some rough edges which made her believable. One other critique of the narrative — the jumps in place and time were confusing in the first half of the film (particularly the clinic scenes), and in retrospect didn’t seem meaningful. The scenes themselves had meaning, but not their placement in the narrative. If I see cuts to past/future in a film, I always want to be able to find a reason for it; for example, in Dead Man Walking, I interpret the flashbacks as the unveiling of the main character’s conscience — to the point where he can fully admit his crime. One other observation: The imagery was interesting, beautiful to look at, but not always coherent in terms of adding meaning/thematic value to the film. There were a lot of butterflies — but what did that mean? Maybe butterflies represent transformations that happen completely off camera…

A few more thoughts, not about the movie itself but about the marketing for the movie. In short, it was a bit much. In addition to hearing about it from the pulpit last Sunday, I received no fewer than 5 emails asking me to promote the film — from The Catholic Association, MN Family Council, and a couple from Eduardo’s gmail account. (Update on 11/11/07 – Here is the most over-the-top email I’ve received to date.) I guess I’ve become weary of something that may just be inherent in the world of movies: relentless marketing. I wish it were possible simply — and un-selfconsciously — to make good art and let it speak for itself. But movies are expensive, both to create and to distribute, so there’s a need for marketing to recover one’s investment and get wider distribution. However, when it comes to distributing media, and using the networking potential of faith/church associations, it’s sometimes a fine line between media at the service of the church and church at the service of the media. And leveraging the good will of people who want to see positive / humane projects can go too far. One quote in an e-mail I received about Bella was a little unsettling: “A young girl who cannot afford her own rent, took all of her savings to adopt a theater.” Hmm. I am not sure I’m ready to call this movie project (or any other, for that matter) the pearl of great price.

I don’t want to discount the positive impact the movie could have (and has already had, according to some reports). One email reports that “a number of pregnant women considering abortion decided to give love and life a chance after seeing this powerful film.” I think that’s great. Film does have power to move us, and this movie had a lot of heart, so from that point-of-view I applaud the filmmakers. I’m simply tentative about the hype of marketing campaigns, as I think they can take advantage of the good will of people who — not surprisingly — want to feel they can make a positive difference using the power of the big screen. Some might call it synergy, others might call it use.

AFTERWORD: I forgot to answer the question: Is the movie pro-life? I think that it’s definitely open for debate. The movie seemed to me to be pro-choices that bring happiness, but not in a way that was ready to define what that meant, so I couldn’t really call it pro-life. It was life affirming… pro-life in a nominal kind of way… as in, this was a good choice — and it was for life — and if the coincidence was meaningful, it would be because of what you brought to the story, not what the story brought to you.

AFTERWORD 2:  On 11/17, I received yet another request for help promoting the film… bringing the total to a least a dozen emails…

Bella’s distributor is doubling our theaters and this is Bella’s opportunity to go to the moon! But, if Bella doesn’t perform this weekend it will be kicked out of theatres for good. The Good News is… if Bella succeeds it will be in theaters for the busiest week of the year – Thanksgiving!
If you are interested in helping Bella here is what you can do:
1. Send this email to your entire data base and ask others to do the same; 2. Adopt a theater by buying all the tickets for a particular Showtime (cost of $1500-$3000) or Adopt a market by buying 5k-10k tickets. To do this visit: HelpBella.com; 3. Buy tickets and give them to friends and family. Invite everyone you know to the movies – it is a film you can invite everyone to see; 4. Promote Bella through every means possible, online and offline; 5. Volunteer to promote Bella in your market.

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