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Award-winning Bella hits the screen

Catch it at Longston Place and Regal Martin theaters

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“Bella” tells the story of two people who fall in love because of an unborn child. Winner of the Audience Award at Toronto 2006, it is a heart-tugger with the confidence not to tug too hard. It stars an actor named Eduardo Verastegui, whom I would describe as the next Antonio Banderas if I ever wrote clichés like that, which I do not. Tall, handsome, bearded, he plays Jose, the chef of his brother’s Mexican restaurant in New York, until his life changes one day when his brother fires a waitress named Nina (Tammy Blanchard) for being late.

Jose and Nina are not a couple. All the same, he walks out of the kitchen, chases her into the subway, apologizes that his brother humiliated her in front of the staff, and finds out she was late because she is pregnant. Jose and Nina walk and talk, have lunch, share memories, and go to a restaurant where the owner, a friend of Jose’s, offers to hire them both. Along the way, Jose tries to convince her to have the child. He is motivated by reasons that are fully explained in early premonitions and later flashbacks, which I will not reveal. Perhaps the clincher on his argument is provided by a visit to his mother and father (Angelica Aragon and Jaime Tirelli), whose warmth is a contrast to Nina’s own wretched past.

I have failed to convey the charm of the movie. Eduardo Verastegui, despite sporting a beard so thick and black it makes him look like a 19th-century anarchist, has friendly eyes, a ready smile, and a natural grace in front of the camera that will soon have fans shifting their Banderas pinups to the bottom drawer. And Tammy Blanchard fits comfortably into the role of a woman who wants to do the right thing but feels alone, friendless and broke. All she needs is someone to trust and she melts.

The movie is not deep and profound, but it’s not stupid. It’s about lovable people having important conversations, and is not pro-choice or pro-life but simply in favor of his feelings — and hers, if she felt free to feel them. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing images. Three stars.

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