I've attended the Toronto International Film Festival nine times and I've never seen the winner of the audience award. Now while I would like to believe that this has something to do with the fact that I rarely vote, the more likely truth is that I just don't pick films all that well. Okay, to cut myself a little slack, I don't even see ten percent of the movies and with only a few hours to sort through 350, the chances of picking the winner are slim.
For some reason, I thought Bella was the audience award winner at this year's film festival. But, my fact checker (imdb) tells me that it was actually the winner in 2006 as well as the first feature film from director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. He also co-wrote the screenplay, which centers on Jose (Eduardo Verástegui), an ex-soccer player and the head chef at his brother Manny's restaurant. Jose has tragedy in his past, which gives him a different outlook on life than his business owner brother. He's plagued by a not-so-underlying sadness, which he apparently tries to hide by growing a Grizzly Adams-like beard.
One day, Jose abandons the restaurant during a busy lunch rush in favor of talking with a recently "emancipated" waitress, Nina (Tammy Blanchard). They go to lunch together at another restaurant, as I doubt Manny would have given them a table. Afterward, Jose takes Nina to his parents' house for dinner with the family. Nina's got her own problems and I'm not sure who ends up helping whom more, but let's just say that both their lives improve by their chance encounter. And no, you male readers out there, I'm not implying anything by that.
The story is nice, much more uplifting than, say, No Country For Old Men, which was our other choice on that afternoon. The script could have used a little touch up here and there, but I give Monteverde credit for not falling into the predictable romance category. He has a good nose for subtle comedy. And for you weepers out there, you might even get a little sniffly by the time the credits roll. My imdb rating: 7/10.