Short reviews: 'Lake of Fire' 'Bella' and more

  • Updated: November 8, 2007 - 8:14 PM

LAKE OF FIRE

LAKE OF FIRE

**** out of four stars

Unrated; graphic documentary violence, nudity, mature themes.

Theater: Bell Auditorium.

Only zealots could view this emotionally wrenching, thought-provoking documentary epic and emerge with their opinions on the abortion debate unshaken. Shot over a period of 16 years by Tony Kaye ("American History X"), it is the best kind of film journalism, one that examines all sides of an issue with penetrating intelligence, raises provocative questions and allows viewers to come to their own conclusions. There are voices of fanaticism and reason in both the abortion-rights and antiabortion caucuses represented here. Kaye doesn't spare us horrific images of abortion remains, nor of murdered abortion-clinic physicians, lying in pools of their own blood. But there's more to the film than shock value. He gives us remarkable human stories, too; the subsequent life of Norma McCorvey, aka "Jane Roe," is too astounding to reveal here.

The film is photographed in limpid black and white, a sound decision. The gore would be unbearable in color, and the absolutist arguments at either extreme of the debate finally mute into a perplexing palette of grays. Attorney Alan Dershowitz sums up the dilemma with the parable of the rabbi who counseled a furious couple. The husband told his version of what was wrong with the marriage, and the rabbi said, "You're right." Then the wife told her side of the story and he said, "You're right." When an onlooker said, "Rabbi, they can't both be right," he replied, "You're right."

-- Colin Covert

BELLA

*** out of four stars

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing images.

A slight but tender and novel romance, "Bella" follows a handsome restaurant chef and a lovely waitress through a day of walking and talking around New York City. The film releases its information about them in a slow leak -- are they a couple? Is she with someone else? -- teasing our curiosity agreeably. Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) and Nina (Tammy Blanchard) spend the day side by side, coming to terms with her unplanned pregnancy, talking through her misgivings and his old traumas.

There's not much more happening here than two people getting to know each other as we come to understand them both, yet that's a story we never tire of, so long as it's told well. And here, it is. Writer/director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's film is utterly touching and captivating, wisely humanist in refusing to cast even the most unpleasant characters as cardboard villains. A loving testament to the beauty of family, "Bella" won the People's Choice Award at last year's Toronto Film Festival. Rarely are crowd-pleasers so effortlessly artful.

-- Colin Covert

WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY

*** out of four stars

Rated: R for language and disturbing content involving suicide.

Theater: Lagoon.

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