The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Not everyone loved “Bella”

posted by deacon greg kandra

While so much of the Catholic press has been cooing over the new movie “Bella” — produced by a devout Catholic (and co-producer of Mel Gibson’s “Passion”) and carrying an explicit pro-life message — not everyone has been enraptured. Some film critics have been decidedly cool to it. And now a respected Catholic screenwriter and teacher has stepped forward to say, in effect: “Sorry, folks. It’s just not that good”:

I have been getting loads of email asking (and sometimes demanding!) my opinion of the indie project Bella that opens (frantically) this weekend in several cities. I have thus refrained from making an official comment about the project because it seemed to me there was no upside. There has been an aggressive and, frankly, stupefying marketing blitz in the Catholic, pro-life universe for the film, and the folks behind the film have recruited an impressive number of good-willed, Catholic and pro-life notables to give the film a thumbs-up. I can’t figure out where the momentum is coming from – as the film itself is not that good – except that everybody in Christendom is eager to support something in the culture instead of always saying “Bleck.” (Which Christians really wouldn’t have to always be saying if we paid attention better to the good work that is out there to be seen…but that’s another post.)

So, we have ourselves a real-live, mind-numbing bandwagon going here to get behind Bella if you love Jesus and care about the babies! I have been contacted three separate times in the last two months trying to get me to say something in support of the film, and my response was, “Why do you need me? You have nearly the entire orthodox Catholic world telling you it’s the greatest Catholic, pro-life film ever made?” A producer on the film subsequently left a message on my voicemail noting that my refusal to support the film had its source “in the demonic.” Really? “Demonic”? It couldn’t just be that I found the film plodding, easy, sloppy and uneven? In short, I don’t think Bella is great. It’s not really “Catholic” (in the sense of overt spirituality). And it really isn’t pro-life (in the usual sense of that term).

What is going on is a wildly over the top marketing blitz in which the investors in Bella are trying desperately to recoup their investment, by telling good Catholic people that they must support this film to send a message to Hollywood. As with so many other mediocre Christian movies, the only “message” that Hollywood will get if Bella does well, is that the Christian audience has no idea what a good movie is and will rave about anything that remotely mirrors our world-view. And the really sad thing is, that message isn’t true. Most Christian people, like the rest of the world, do know a good story when they see one. So many, possibly most of the folks who are going to dutifully show up to support Bella this weekend are going to be disappointed or annoyed, or generally confused at what it is they are missing that everybody else is raving about. Trust your gut, audience of “The Passion,” you’re not missing something. There’s just not much in Bella to miss.

You’ll want to read what else she has to say.

I have to say, I became leery of these kinds of movies after I saw “Entertaining Angels” — egged on to see it by plaudits from both the pulpit and the Catholic press. It was a noble attempt at telling a worthy story, the life of Dorothy Day, and it even threw in Martin Sheen, just for fun. But it was really, truly, mediocre. If that’s the best Catholic film makers can do, no wonder so few of their movies get made.

I haven’t seen “Bella” yet, but I plan to. I hope it’s better than Barbara Nicolosi says. But I’ve learned to lower my expectations. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Comments read comments(17)
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Deacon Jim Walsh, San Diego

posted October 29, 2007 at 5:01 pm

Greg, did you need to post this unnecessary critique on your site about an important film you haven’t seen yet?Even Nicolosi admitted she hasn’t seen the final cut!

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Just another mad Catholic

posted October 29, 2007 at 5:05 pm

Anyone know if this film will open in the UK?

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posted October 29, 2007 at 5:19 pm

Well, since the NY Times review was referenced (what would anyone expect THEM to say) how about this from Roger Ebert, who has been known to be critical of many films in the past (full review“The movie is not 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. The movie is a little more lightweight than the usual People’s Choice Award winner at Toronto, but why not? It was the best-liked film at the 2006 festival, and I can understand that.”Doesn’t sound terrible, at any rate.Also, I wonder what Nicolosi means about paying attention to the good work that is out there to be seen, which is promised in another post. I can’t wait for that. There certainly isn’t much good stuff for a family to see at the theaters where I live.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted October 29, 2007 at 5:29 pm

Deacon Jim:I respect Nicolosi’s opinion, even when I disagree with it. I thought it interesting and surprising that a pro-life Catholic — and one, evidently, whom the producers had been wooing for a blurb — had such a harshly negative reaction to it. I’ll be curious to see if she views a final cut, and revises her judgment. Stay tuned. Blessings,Dcn. G. p.s For my money, one of the best movies of this type in the last few years — one with a positive message, and a spiritual theme — was “Millions,” an under-rated gem beautifully directed by Danny Boyle. Check it out!

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posted October 29, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Deacon Greg I’m glad you posted on Bella. After two attempts (1st night sold out), I saw Bella in Orange Country, CA, after turning down a free group ticket with the pro lifers of San Diego. I consider myself a moderate pro life activist (have prayed a few times in front of abortion clinics and marched through the streets of San Diego on the 90th Fatima anniversary). Consequently, I would have LOVED To have found the pro life movie to scream from the mountain tops. Bella is not that movie, but it’s also not that bad, and does have its moments (and let’s face it, Eduardo is easy on the eyes!). All said, I didn’t come home and blast off emails to everyone I know to get out there to see the “must see” movie, but I did recommend it to one friend.Here’s the bottom line I would hope all will consider. I’m not sure, if as a pro life Catholic, we are the best to judge a movie like this. If there’s any genius in the movie at all, it’s the fact that the pro life message is done without any words. I honestly believe, that regardless of where one stands on pro life, one cannot see this movie and at least, not think about alternatives to abortion. I would also argue strongly that Bella does a great job in showing the power of unselfish human love.I often shock a lot of my pro life and pro choice friends when I don’t get real excited about overturning Roe v Wade. I explain to them that until hearts change, laws aren’t going to do a whole lot. Bella portrays the kind of pro life message that just might be able to change a heart or two. In my book, if this movie makes just one woman not have the abortion she was planning on having, then I say, bravo. Maybe the fact that it’s not “in your face Catholic and pro life” will lend itself to ear that otherwise wouldn’t come close to hearing. As for the movie itself, keep in mind this was done with a very limited budget. For a first attempt, I say, not bad, not bad at all. Bella is for all of those pregnant scared and lonely women, who far more than an agenda to abort their babies, are really crying for love, and of course, that’s where we, the pro life folks, take over, hopefully! Like anything else, Bella simply comes down to love. In God’s world, it will only take one “Bella in real life” to have made this movie a success.Kia

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Deacon Volker

posted October 29, 2007 at 8:20 pm

DxE? that you?

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posted October 29, 2007 at 8:38 pm

“Either Barbara is engaged in a real grudge match with the producers of “Bella”, or this is all a hoax and she’s on the payroll of the marketing firm. (Gosh, I’m not sure which is worse!)”Actually, I know what is worse. It is insinuating in a public forum like this, without any foundation, that someone is dishonestly on the take. Worse is suggesting “a grudge match” is behind a harsh review, instead of acknowledging that the movie is substandard. You have no evidence for weither of these claims and they are what we used to call slander.And I am “harsh”? I was only criticizing a dumb movie.

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posted October 29, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Re; Reviewing a movie from a roughcutI was asked before Bella was shot to give notes on the screenplay. So, I read and re-read it a couple times and madem any notes on the text. That means, that not only am I familiar with the substance of the scenes, but also any of the directoral notes that may or may not have been well-realized on the screen. A roughcut is more of a film than what most people see in theaters. After I saw the roughcut, scenes were cut and shortened and rearranged.But nothing new was added. Because they didn’t do any pickups, but only chopped up and moved around what was already there.Most of my complaints with the film had to do with what was missing – character development moments, motivational choices, thematic transitions and imagery, subtext in any aspect at all, etc. None of these things could be fixed in an editing room.

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posted October 29, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Regarding Barbara Nicolosi, she sometimes has good judgment, sometimes not. For example, she thought “King Kong” was great. I’m a BIG “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” fan. We rented “King Kong” based on her recommendation and it was AWFUL. Embarassing for Peter Jackson – hard to believe this was the same director who did “Lord of the Rings.” Since then, I haven’t paid much attention to her opinions of film.Regarding Bella, one reviewer said (I think it was Roger Ebert) that the film was just as interesting for what it left out as for what it showed. It was put together in a way that was intended to leave much for reflection and even confusion in certain moments until one realizes that it is showing a flashback or a character’s concept of the future. I do agree that some of the film’s promoters have gone overboard, as Nicolosi implies, but that doesn’t take away from the artistic merit of the film.

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posted October 30, 2007 at 12:17 am

Gabe said (who found that he has more spam when he posted as himselfI really liked the movie, as it was a “message” movie, not unlike the ’67 “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Spenser Tracy and Sidney Portier. It’s a longer version of those really good public service announcements that the Mormons used to do. It is not a great movie, but a good one. We know all along where this project is headed, particularly when Pedro (?–I already forgot his name) continues to press Nina about the pregnancy.So, whether or not Barbara Nicolosi supports it or not (which she is certainly allowed to do), it is something out there that speaks in which we Christians can at least find resonance.I agree with Deacon Greg about Entertaining Angels, and I really like Miora Kelly–talk about being easy on the eyes, from a male perspective!

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posted October 30, 2007 at 3:36 am

Dear anonymous -You are not telling the truth.I hated King Kong! I panned it in the strongest terms possible in my review. Don’t you have the slightest concern for representing people correctly?This whole thing is just getting weird.

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posted October 30, 2007 at 6:46 am

Deacon Greg:Please remove my previous post. I apologize to Barbara and your readers for my failure to clarify that the opinions I expressed were based on my own assumptions and not facts.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted October 30, 2007 at 7:47 am

I’m going to have to ask everyone, please, to get a grip. I’m heading out of town for a few days and won’t be near a computer — I’ll be at a monastery, on retreat — so no other comments will appear until I get back.

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posted October 30, 2007 at 1:48 pm

Deacon Greg, Let us all know how your retreat went.And I appreciate Barbara’s review. I will use it like like I use Roger Ebert’s reviews. I have found that if Ebert hates it, I’ll probably like it. He has an entirely different taste in movies than me.

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mary therese

posted October 31, 2007 at 8:01 am

Thanks for posting another perspective. So often we rush to judgment, accepting or rejecting something strictly on the basis of rather limited information that seems to fit the belief system that we already hold. It is easy to buy in to hype and the overwhelming pressure created when “everybody thinks it is wonderful/terrible” and mistrusting one’s own experience. There are enough things to squabble about without spending time arguing over something this insignificant in the big picture.

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Deacon Jim, San Diego

posted October 31, 2007 at 12:18 pm

Here’s a link to a story about Bella to try on… a new $100,000 film award to the producers of Bella. The author of this article probably doesn’t write screenplays.

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posted November 5, 2007 at 3:34 pm

You’re right, Barbara, you did give King Kong 2 thumbs down. I could have sworn that I heard you on Relevant Radio talking about it in a positive way (how deep the relationship was between Kong and the young woman, etc.), but your written review does give it a bad review. I must have been confusing this with a different film. Sorry about that!Nevertheless, I still think Bella has artistic merit. Its feel reminds me a bit of “Tortilla Soup” in terms of its casual, laid-back feel, but it has a much better message.

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