Personal Pick: “Bless Me, Ultima”

BLESS ME, ULTIMA is based upon the controversial novel by Rudolfo Anaya. It is a turbulent coming of age story about Antonio Márez (Luke Ganalon), a young boy growing up in New Mexico during World War II.

Six year old Antonio is reunited with elderly and wise Ultima (Miriam Colon) who has come to stay with his family in their small house in Guadalupe, New Mexico, his idyllic and innocent world changes. The family has taken in Ultima out of a respect for her healing powers, her knowledge of plant lore, and her long use of folk magic in service of the community. Though they have great respect for Ultima’s spirituality, the family is anxious about her arrival, especially Antonio’s mother María (Dolores Heredia), who is devoutly Catholic.

Antonio’s father, Gabriel (Benito Martinez), is a former vaquero or cowboy, who wandered the llanos or great plains of New Mexico. María is the daughter of farmers, people who tended to their land. Antonio’s parents argue about his future; Gabriel hopes he will become a vaquero, and María hopes he will become a priest. When Antonio was born, Ultima served as his midwife and it is believed that she is the only one who knows what lays in his future.

Antonio enjoys spending time with Ultima, learning about plants and trees and helping her gather herbs. One night, Antonio’s innocence is shattered when he witnesses the death of Lupito (Bernardo Saracino), a soldier recently returned from World War II. After witnessing Lupito’s murder, Antonio begins to wonder about sin, death, and hell. Antonio walks to church with Ultima the next morning, and she tells him that each person must make his or her own moral choices, must choose a set of values to use to understand the world.

Through a series of mysterious and, at times, terrifying events Antonio must grapple with questions about his own destiny, the relationship between good vs. evil and, ultimately, how to reconcile Ultima’s powers with those of the God of his church.

BLESS ME, ULTIMA adapted for the screen is beautifully directed by Carl Franklin (Out of Time, High Crimes, Devil in a Blue Dress). Opens in select markets Feb. 22, check local listings for details.

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