Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Bella" Means "Beautiful"

I can't really say enough about this movie. I saw a pre-screening of Bella on the campus of FUS last semester. Even in unedited form, I got the impression that this movie is truly "art." Sometimes, you walk away from a movie thinking, "It was great and all, but I wouldn't necessarily call it art." Well, Bella is art. It just has that feel the whole time you are watching it. It's difficult to explain to someone who has never seen the movie before, but I guarantee you that anyone who has seen it already will know exactly what I am talking about.

With Bella set to hit the theatres this Friday, perhaps the following e-letter from Karl Keating will give you all the incentive you need to go watch this amazing movie, particularly during the second week of release.
  • Dear Friend of Catholic Answers:

    Late Sunday I returned from Florence, where I was making preparations for Catholic Answers' upcoming Rendezvous, which will be held there in April. A few days before I left on that trip, I met with Leo Severino, one of the producers of "Bella," which opens its theatrical release this Friday.

    Severino left a DVD of the movie with me. Too busy to watch it before leaving for Italy, I just this morning finished viewing it. It was even better than he represented it to be. "Bella" is an intensely pro-life and pro-family film, yet the terms "pro-life" and "abortion" never appear in it. In no way preachy or propagandistic, the film conveys a strong message that love can overcome brokenness and that old sorrows do not have to be compounded with new sorrows.

    "Bella" stars Eduardo Verastegui, who is hardly known in America but who achieved fame in Mexican soap operas, and Tammy Blanchard, who has acted in several television shows and who won an Emmy for playing the lead in a made-for-television movie about Judy Garland.

    In "Bella" Blanchard plays a waitress who is fired on the day she discovers she is pregnant. Verastegui, a chef at the same restaurant, befriends her, losing his own job in the process. She comes from an unhappy home and does not want a child; he comes from a happy home but years before had his own life changed through a terrible accident. During the course of a day together each one begins a recovery. ...

    And that is all I want to say about the plot, not wanting to be accused of being a spoiler.

    I do want to say, though, that this is a remarkable movie, in several ways. It won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival last year. Severino and the other principals behind the movie thought themselves lucky even to have "Bella" shown at the festival, which often showcases films that go on to win Oscars. They expected nothing because they were movie novices. "Bella" was a first-time effort for the producers, the director, the screenwriters, and for many of the actors.

    Severino and the others behind the film are devout Catholics, several of them having come to or back to the Church only in recent years. Verastegui, for example, realized that the success he was having in Mexican soap operas was good for the bank account but not very good for the soul. He gave up a lucrative career to partner with Severino and director Alejandro Monteverde (they call themselves the Three Amigos) on a project that all three felt Providence called them to engage in.

    When Severino was here on October 1, he appeared on "Catholic Answers Live" and talked about the making of the movie. You can listened to that archived show at Afterwards, several of us went out to dinner, and during the course of the evening I asked what it would take for "Bella," which is opening this week in
    31 markets, to become a nationwide success. Severino explained to us how the system works.

    "Bella" is set for a two-week run. For it to be picked up for widespread national distribution, it needs to do well at the box office during those two weeks. No surprise there. But distributors and theater chains do not look only at the number of people walking through the theater door on opening night. They also look at the trend line over those two weeks.

    Many movies do well their first weekend and then attract fewer and fewer visitors over the course of the following days. A movie that is strong on nights one and two but that cannot draw audiences for nights three through fourteen will not warrant the multi-million dollar investment required to have it open in hundreds of theaters around the country.

    What the money men want to see is whether a movie still draws people the second week. The crowds that show up the first weekend show up because of the publicity surrounding a premiere (many viewers like to be "first" to see a film). The crowds that show up the second week do so because the reviews have been good or because word of mouth has touted the film. If the second week's box office receipts match or exceed the first week's, a movie has a good chance to go national in a big way--especially if it already has awards to its credit (such as the Toronto Film Festival award).

    "Okay," I said to Severino, "but what does this mean in practice?" He said: "We need to get people to see the film during the second week." The opening weekend is important, but the second week is more important. There needs to be a clear upward trend if large-scale distribution is to happen.

    I was impressed by Severino. He is intense, devout, and compelled. Like Verastegui, he gave up a lucrative career to work on "Bella." He had been with a high-power law firm in the Los Angeles area. He rediscovered his faith and felt God was calling him to do something more important with his life.

    I hope he and his partners have much success with this film--first, because it really is a fine production and deserves to be recognized as such, and, second, because, if the movie succeeds, these fellows intend to produce more films of the same high caliber--high both in production values and in serious, morally uplifting content.

    So here comes my request to you: Go and see "Bella." Take your entire family with you. Take your friends with you, if you have friends. Take strangers with you, if you do not have friends. But do not go during the first week. Go during the second week to help that trend line.

    To find out whether you are in one of the 31 markets where the film debuts this weekend, visit, where you will find a list of cities and, for each city, a list of theaters where "Bella" will be shown. Once you have seen "Bella," talk it up to everyone on your e-mail list, and visit our forums and participate in discussions about the film.

    Borrowing a line from Mother Teresa, we might say that Severino and the others want to "do something beautiful [bella] for God." I would like to see them succeed in that.
Please, go see this movie. Support it in every way possible. Travel great distances if that is what it takes. Some movies are hugely popular and they don't even deserve to be. This movie deserves it, and it will be an utter tragedy if the response at the box office is lukewarm.

"So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:16)

[I know, a little melodramatic, I couldn't help myself]

Pax Christi,

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