Bella: Spanish Paella

Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Alejandro Gomez Monteverde
Starring: Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez
(PG-13, 91 min.)

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same…" Rudyard Kipling

And that’s exactly what Bella is. Beautiful! With Hollywood hopelessly lost exploring our dark underbelly, this fresh film makes its way to our hearts. No wonder it won the People’s Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival.

Shot in just 24 days, the crux of the film takes place within 24 hours. It is a spare tale of loss and redemption whose success owes quite a bit to the understated acting of its two leads. Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) is a talented chef joylessly toiling away in the kitchen of his brother Manny’s (Manny Perez) restaurant. When the popular waitress Nina (Tammy Blanchard) arrives late again, Manny summarily fires her, Jose quickly in tow as the humiliated Nina rushes away.

She tells him what she has just found out, that she is pregnant and now without work. Perhaps because he has known his own sudden jolt of reality, Jose decides to stay with Nina, and the two shop the street markets, go out for lunch, and finally take the train to Jose’s parents’ house. All the while he does what does not come naturally to most of us – he listens, without judgment or blame.

The day rushes on without opportunity to change, Jose in his somewhat stained white chef’s jacket, Nina in her rather florid waitress uniform, perhaps the director’s way of demanding that we look beneath these exterior realities.

Not everyone in New York can do that, however. When they show up at the fancy restaurant Jose has chosen for lunch, the receptionist thinks they are looking for work instead of a table. And while Jose sits against a wall waiting for Nina, a passerby drops a bill into the coffee cup he has beside him. I guess it is the Grizzy Adams coiffure that does it.

But Jose hasn’t always been the sad bearded one, as interspersed flashbacks tell us; that is once we realize that the handsome, cigar chomping youth behind the wheel of the shiny vintage Cadillac, the one with the glowing confidence and melting charm is or was indeed our Jose. The young Jose on the way to sign his way to stardom in professional soccer, a stardom snatched away in an instant.

Perhaps even more intriguing is the story behind Bella, of a young and “impossibly handsome Latino soap star,” who according to Mark Moring, “was not only playing the stereotypical Latin lover. He was living the role.” But all the cars, money, girls, and fame had become empty, and Eduardo Verastegui had a conversion.

He was tired of the negative portrayals of Latinos in film. If they weren’t criminals or drunkards, they were womanizers. He vowed not to accept any roles that promoted that false picture, and accordingly went without working for four years. Finally, Verastegui realized that the roles wouldn’t come unless he helped them along, and together with like-minded Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, a film school graduate from the University of Texas, and Leo Severino, a former business manager at 20th Century Fox, the three amigos, as they called themselves, started Metanoia Films, which in Greek means, repentance or conversion.

Even more storybook is their meeting with the former Pope just months before his death, their request for his blessing, and the subsequent meeting with a Miami-area entrepreneur who decided to fund their project to the tune of 3 million dollars just ten days later. More little miracles surround the tale. The story of Bella came to Monteverde on a long car trip from Austin to L.A. almost as vision, one that so moved him he had to pull over to the side of the road. And while researching his part, Eduardo made a mark on this world even more important than the film itself.

Bella is an antidote for an industry that offers an endless diet of unremitting cynicism and suffering. You deserve this piquant slice of life spiced with hope and a fresh green sprig of cilantro.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

There is something about cooking that bares our souls. A sweet intimacy with soft dough and fresh herbs that makes candor and yes, even love flourish. (See RatatouilleBig Night, and Mostly Martha)

We see the wonder of it not so much in Manny’s restaurant kitchen, where culinary whimsy bows to efficiency and the bottom line, but in the warm and friendly kitchen of Manny and Jose’s parents. Their dinner is a feast for eyes as well as the palate, their tri colored rice a salute to the colors of Mexico, and their purple tortillas a taste of royalty.

But the real work gets done when Jose and Nina visit an upscale New York restaurant, and Jose lands a job interview for newly fired Nina in between courses of the delicious Paella he treats her to.

If you haven’t had this wonderful Spanish dish, be prepared to be awed. But there’s no rush. Why not start with some delicious Tortilla Soup.

Spanish Paella

If you want an easy-to-do simple paella recipe, just knock on us... This is the easier paella recipe you can find anywhere!

Serves: 6-8
Difficulty: Intermediate
Preparation time: 60-90 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pint of oil
  • 2 bowls of rice (1lb. 5 oz. approximately)
  • 5 bowls of fish broth
  • 1/2 lb. of shrimps
  • 2 mid-sized squids
  • 2 lb. of mussels or clams
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 small can of peas
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 tomatoes
  • Saffron
  • 1 clove of garlic (optional)
  • Parsley
  • Salt

Preparation

Start to heat half of the oil and once warm toss the chopped onion. After 5 minutes, add diced tomatoes, without seeds and peeled. Let it braise about 5 minutes more, mashing the tomatoes with a skimmer. Strain it and throw it in the paella pan.

In a pot, begin to cook in cold water the shells of the shrimps, reserving the tails. In another ladle cook the mussels with little water (well washed before with water and salt). As soon as the shells open up, take them away and take off the half that doesn't have the bug, reserving the other halves and straining for a very fine strainer the broth where they have cooked, as well as that of the waste of the shrimp.

Add the rest of the oil to the paella pan. Throw the green pepper, cut to square pieces of half inch. Add the cut squid to ribbons or in fine hoops and the rice. Keep stirring with a wooden tablespoon, without letting it go brown. Throw salt, and the broth of the remains of fish, hot but not boiling. This is completed with the 5 broth bowls. Shake the paella pan a little taking it by the handles so that it is broth flows all over. All this should be made to medium fire.

Meanwhile, in a mortar mash a little bit of garlic (optional), the parsley and the saffron, with a little bit of salt so that it doesn't slip, and it wet it with a couple of soup spoonfuls of temperate water. Spill this mixture on the rice and shake again the paella pan. Incorporate now the shrimps tails and when the broth has reduced to the half decorate the paella with the red pepper cut to ribbons, the mussels and the peas.

Let it cook about 20 minutes.

Once the rice is cooked and the broth has reduced, retire the paella pan from the fire, on a wet cloth, leaving it rest for about 5 minutes.

Serve it with some big clusters of lemon without peeling for decoration.

Recipe Source: Spain-Recipes.com