Twenty-two aspects of love

I met Alejandro Monteverde on the day his Toronto-city Award was announced at TIFF for his direction of festival entry Bella. I couldn’t help remarking that this little treasure reminded me of another low budget but highly effective film about immigrant brothers, Big Night.

Monteverde said Big Night had been his inspiration for Bella, his first feature. By no means, however, is this to be intended as a genre copy; it’s just that this has the same sense of bringing the viewer into the lives of the characters.


Nina and Jose charm in the offbeat Bella

Bella is about a Latino family — Puerto Rican father, Mexican mother — both retired and their three sons — in particular Jose, a former rising soccer star whose career was stopped short by a tragedy.

Now Jose is head chef at his brother Manny’s upscale New York Mexican restaurant. The two don’t get along. and the rift widens when Jose befriends Nina, a pregnant waitress from the mid west, just fired by Manny. Jose walks out and finds Nina wandering the city streets and succeeds in comforting her.

The two visit Jose’s parents in New Jersey and Nina charms them . The film progresses lovingly, peopled by real humans — not Latino stereotypes in conventional situations. Eduardo Verastegui as Jose and Tammy Blanchard as Nina are great in their roles as are the remainder of the cast in a plot that has some unusual twists leaving both Jose, Nina and Manny the better for their experience.

This is a film to be relished and a great beginning for Alejandro Monteverde in his first essay into features.

Paris je t’aime shows how an anthology film of 20 different five-minute tributes to the City of Light ( and dark),
each made by a different director, can succeed where others have failed.

Paris je t'aime

Juliet Binoche in heartwrenching reunion with lost child
The subject is love — or the illusion of love. Directors and actors are a cosmopolitan bunch and include (directors) Gerard Depardieu, the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, Gurinder Chadha
and Vincenzo Natali and (actors) Juliette Binoche, Miranda Richardson, Fanny Ardant, Steve Buscemi, Elijah Wood , Bob Hoskins and Gerard Depardieu.

Each of the 20 stories takes place in a different location in Paris; each story begins with the last shot of the previous film and ends with the first shot of the next. This treatment involving 20 widely disparate themes and plots serves to unite the components into the single theme suggested by the film’s title.

Listening to audience reactions after the TIFF screenings, I noted that personal choices differed widely. A sequence involving a love affair between two mimes that I found particularly moving left one person with whom I spoke quite cold.

There wasn’t a single story I didn’t like for one reason or another but my own particular favourites were: the episode at the Tuilleries Metro station where a bewildered, well-meaning tourist (Steve Buscemi) is roughed up by a local because of a misunderstanding; the intimate glimpse into the mind of a bereaved mother (Juliette Binoche) whose young son is brought back for a fleeting moment and the absurd tale of the prowling vampire (Elijah Wood) who meets and falls in love with one of his own kind, thereby guaranteeing both a permanent supply. And of course, the two mimes.

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