By Fred Pollard
For most of my life, I have struggled with worrying too much about what people think of me.
I have also never been good at letting go of the people in my life that I love.
Both of those “life lesson hurdles” are explored in the new film “Belleville.” Writer/director Dan Steadman and producer/actor Ted Trent’s independent film about love, community and the redemptive power of the human spirit has created a buzz in the industry and garnered the team a new level of recognition.
Tim O’Leary gives a captivating performance as “Willie,” a reclusive farmer who has been unable to pick up the pieces after a shattering loss. A community that once supported and reached to him have since decided to “live and let live,” the lone exception being a neighbor with her own agenda.
Enter “Neila,” a mysterious stranger who emerges (literally) from a pond with seemingly no memory of how he got there. Together, the two men learn to experience life from completely different spectrums. In the process, “Belleville” challenges views on grief, the afterlife, and what it really means to live life to the fullest.
Not that the film is all “heavy.” It isn’t just the lack of violence and profanity that makes “Belleville” a family-friendly experience; it is also the sense of childlike wonder (or childishness) that permeates the soul of each character. Neila wanders into a bar, and within minutes not only has he experienced his first well drink, he also learns how to dance…proceeding to then dance with the entire bar.
Completely oblivious to what people think, he is just happy about the wonder of it all.
That childlike behavior extends beyond Neila’s character to the people in the Belleville community (“I knew illiteracy existed,” one woman says following her encounter with Neila. “Maybe he was from Mableville.”). While experiencing the film, one can’t help but feel some of the responsibilities of professional adulthood melt away a little, longing to dance in a bar or be politically incorrect.
Trent (who plays Neila) and Steadman challenged each other to create a statement on the power of community (Belleville, Illinois, where the movie was also filmed, is Trent’s hometown). With “Belleville,” they succeeded in presenting community beyond just the borders of the Midwest.
(Look for a particular moment when Willie’s anguish and loss are most evident…it will stay with you long after you leave the theater.)
Until the end of the film, Neila doesn’t remember much…but he remembers love.
I think “Belleville” will be hard pressed to find a viewer who doesn’t walk away remembering love…and smiling.