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Life Is Bella

Author: Anita Connors
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Alejandro Monteverde’s debut feature Bella is a film about breaking stereotypes and second chances. 3D’s Anita Connors spoke to the up and coming filmmaker about his film, which won the coveted People’s Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival.

For Monteverde, the win at Toronto was a shock. “I’m amazed that this little film, you know, a film that was made with a lot of heart, was able to get into the biggest festival in the world and then win it,” he says. “So I’m just actually surprised, I still can’t believe it. It feels like a dream.”

The shock was made greater as not only was Bella the director’s first ever film, but they initially struggled to get it off the ground.

“You know it’s a very low budget film,” he asserts. “Shooting in New York City, which is the most expensive city in the world to make a film, it was very, very hard. We didn’t have enough money, we didn’t have enough days so we were shooting a lot of pages, like 10 pages a day and the whole film was shot in 24 days. So it was it was very, very difficult but we were able to make it happen.”

However, despite less than a month to shoot Bella, Monteverde remains unfazed.

“Sometimes you get everything you want and you don’t get the film you want, sometimes you don’t get what you want and at the end you get a film that moves people to tears and touches their heart to the point of having a change in their life forever…” he says. “At the end, this is the final film, maybe if I had [had] more days I wouldn’t have the story I have right now in my hand. A lot of this story happened as result of the limitations we had to make the film. So I will never know what film I would have if I had [had] everything that I wanted.”

The most important thing for Monteverde wasn’t that Bella was his first film – it was that he “wanted to make a story that inspired and broke negative stereotypes…that elevated human beings”. Describing the film as “a love story that goes beyond romance”, Bella is largely concerned with refashioning the depiction of love onscreen.

“Love is stereotyped by Hollywood already between a man and a woman in a romantic way,” he says. “So I had to make a real story that broke those barriers, that went beyond the romance way of seeing love.

“I also wanted to break the stereotype of Latinos in America. You know, Latinos are always stereotyped as the worst of the worst on the big screen – always the drug dealer, the thief, the drunkard, and if you’re good looking, a womaniser. So I wanted to present a different side of the coin, to present Latinos in a positive light. And with those to things in mind, that was the inspiration of mine to write the script.”

To help break such negative stereotypes, Monteverde cast Mexican superstar and long time friend Eduardo Verastegui in the lead role of José, a chef who was once a famous footballer. Curiously, he hides the man who has been described as Mexico’s Brad Pitt behind a great, bushy beard for much of the film.

“The beard is a real beard,” Monteverde says. “He grew his beard for six months before we started shooting the film. The reason why was that I want the audience to really see him, to see him on the inside and not get distracted by his good looks on the outside. Also, after the accident, he was one person before the accident – the whole idea that how your life can change in one second forever. And before the accident, he was a very vain guy; he liked to always be looking good. After the accident that changed. You know, he didn’t care about his appearance anymore, he also felt like he needed to hide from the world that’s why the beard and that’s why he became a chef, because you’re always in the kitchen, people are not seeing you, it’s a job that’s very quiet... At the end of the movie, the reason he didn’t shave, it’s because when you get a scar in your arm, it doesn’t disappear it stays there forever until you die. So the beard represented the accident even though he had overcome that, he was still going to remember that action forever.”

WHEN: In cinemas 21 February