The issue of abortion has been a significant presence in the cinema world in the last few years thanks to high-profile films like Juno and Knocked Up, two comedies that stirred controversy by barely mentioning the “A-word”, as Jonah Hill’s character calls it in the latter movie. Pro-choice lobbyists were up in arms about both films’ reluctance to even entertain the idea of abortion as an option; a slightly unfair criticism to level at Juno in particular as in that the lead character – a teenage girl – actually makes it all the way into an abortion clinic before having a change of heart. Bella, the low-key début of Mexican writer-director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, takes an altogether more rounded approach to the subject, as befits its far less knockabout tone, and as a result won praise on its release from pro-choice and pro-life activists alike.

It’s the tale – apparently based on real events, though there is nothing of the front page about them – of a Manhattan waitress (Blanchard) who, on the day she discovers she is pregnant, is fired by her boss (Perez). The restaurant’s head chef (Verástegui) feels compelled to go after her, leaving his boss (also his brother) in the lurch and us with the opportunity to observe as they spend the day with each other, slowly drawing from one another the details of each other’s past. She intends to abort, and it’s their growing relationship that forces her to reassess this decision; the two eventually make their way to his family’s house and it is in this loving and, for her, alien environment that the reality of what she might be about to lose sets in.

It’s a relaxed, restrained film that manages to slip its emotional punches under the radar as opposed to slapping you with them in the face. There is a sense of yearning for an emotional profundity that is never quite achieved, but the themes are provocative enough in themselves, which means that Monteverde can wrangle his actors without striving for tent-pole bombast. His efforts are rewarded with three strong lead performances, with the stand-out being Perez as the brother struggling to attain the American Dream even as that pursuit leads to his own dehumanisation.

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