Producer makes a movie he would be ‘proud’ for Jesus to see
by Kara Hansen
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It ranks right up there with such highly acclaimed movies as “Life is Beautiful,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hotel Rwanda,” and “American Beauty.”
Yet most people have never heard of the movie “Bella,” though the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is working to change that.
“I think it’s a great movie, with a subtle, positive message people will pick up on,” said Tom Zarda, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Shawnee. Zarda viewed the movie at a recent pre-screening sponsored by the archdiocese.
“I would especially recommend all young people see it,” he added. “I think they [often] hear the pro-life message but don’t see it being played out like it is in ‘Bella.’ It leaves an impression on you.”
The film — which was shot in just 23 days in New York City, yet won the prized People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006 — is a moving tale of love, compassion and redemption. “Bella” features two main characters — Jose and Nina. Jose (Eduardo Verástegui) is a former professional soccer player — he was just beginning to taste the life of fame and fortune when a tragedy turned his dreams to dust. He befriends Nina (Tammy Blanchard) at his brother’s restaurant, where the two work. When Nina finds herself fired for missing work, it is Jose who welcomes and supports her.
The rest of the story unfolds as the two spend the day together, and Nina shares her unexpected pregnancy with Jose.
At a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops earlier this year, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann had the opportunity to view “Bella.” He found the movie to be both positive and inspiring, and invited the makers of “Bella” to host a pre-screening in the archdiocese.
“I decided to have the archdiocese arrange a private screening to help promote the success of ‘Bella’ because of its powerful message about the sanctity of life, as well as the desire to support the efforts of talented individuals attempting to use modern means of communication for the promotion of positive values,” Archbishop Naumann wrote in a note to those who attended the screening.
The pre-screening of “Bella” was held Sept. 20 at AMC Town Center Theatres in Leawood, where the movie’s producer, Leo Severino, spoke to the crowd of approximately 300 about why the movie was made.
“People imitate art, and we wanted to make something with a positive message,” said Severino. “We wanted to do something different from the message of movies like ‘The Cider House Rules’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby.’ The idea was that if Jesus watched our movie from A to Z, we would not have to cover his eyes or ears even once. It would be a movie we would be proud, not ashamed, to have him see.”
While the movie obviously carries a positive, life-affirming message, it does not hesitate to touch on the complexity of the characters’ problems — or their pain. Viewers are easily pulled into the heartache and tragedy experienced by both Jose and Nina.
Perhaps even more striking is the underlying message “Bella” carries of the importance of caring for people in even the smallest of ways. Throughout the movie, simple gestures — like Jose’s family inviting Nina to dinner or Jose making a meal for his brother — are significant, and even pivotal, moments for the characters.
And lest anyone think “Bella” to be a stuffy drama, elements of humor are intertwined with the more somber plotlines. Some of the most heartwarming and light scenes occur during the interactions among Jose’s relatives, who are a tight-knit, loving Mexican family.
“‘Bella’ is so inspirational. It’s what Hollywood should be: a movie that lifts our hearts and minds with no violence, foul language, or sex scenes,” said Barbara Belcher, a member of Queen of the Holy Rosary, Wea, who attended the pre-screening.
“I tell people you have got to see this movie. I don’t think you even have to be Christian to appreciate this film,” she said. “It’s for all people of goodwill.”