The star is Eduardo Verastegui, a Mexican heartthrob as a lead performer in TV soap operas who now lives in Los Angeles. A devout Catholic, he told me he was tired of movies showing Latinos as disreputable and immoral. He has learned to speak English in three years well enough to play the lead role mostly in English (with subtitles over the Spanish).
It was a stretch to get "Bella" even shown at Toronto, much less win an award. "Going into the festival," said the Hollywood Reporter, "absolutely no one, including the team of filmmakers that made 'Bella,' ever imagined it would capture the People's Choice Award, voted on by festival audiences."
Even with the Toronto prize, which in the past has led to Academy and Golden Globe awards, however, it is hard to get the film in movie houses, and it may be necessary for the filmmakers to form a distribution company. The avowed reason for the difficulty is inexperience of the director and a cast with names unfamiliar to American moviegoers. But the film's producers say the same left-wing Hollywood establishment that attacked "The Passion of The Christ" is sniping at "Bella," which lacks a Mel Gibson in support.
If the Crucifixion in "The Passion" was hard to take for non-Christians and some Christians, "Bella" on one level is a drama without religious overtones. But while the audience at Monday's screening was moved to tears, reaction from a commercial theater audience -- including women who have chosen an abortion -- could be different. The pro-life movement hopes, in the absence of effort by supposedly pro-life politicians, it will point to a different way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy.