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Bless Me Ultima Review
By Lorraine Hirakawa / February 26

Ingredients: If you like the cinematography of Dancing with Wolves, the coming of age story line of To Kill a Mocking Bird and the subtle magical realism of Whalerider then you’ll enjoy Bless Me Ultima

I have to admit that I have been waiting for this movie for years. Rudolph Anaya’s novel is one of my favorite coming of age stories. The beauty in his writing does not get lost in this film, but it would be a challenge for any film to do it justice. While some of the poetry my dissipate, the essential conflict of a young Mexican boy coming of age during World War I amidst superstition and witchcraft stays very true to the novel’s storyline. 

There are no major stars in the movie. As a matter of fact it may never have been made if it wasn’t for the advocacy of Christy Walton, Wal-mart heiress. 

Ultima (as played by Miriam Colon) comes to stay with the Marez family, bringing rumors of witchcraft as she takes young Antonio (Luke Ganalon) as her progeny in the art of herbal medicine and magic. Colon’s portrayal is as enigmatic and Yoda-like as the novel describes and Ganalon is endearing as the quizzical Antonio who ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time, frequently putting himself in danger.

The cinematography makes the New Mexico llano come to life, creating a character out of the land. With sweeping panoramic scenes, Carl Franklin captures the wildness of the land that calls to Gabriel Marez’s (played by Benito Martinez) wild vaquero heart. The land plays a critically important role in Antonio’s struggle to grow up, to be a Luna like his mother’s people (a farmer) or a vaquero.

Castulo Guerra as the evil Tenorio has an eerie presence on screen and makes the most of his scenes coming off as heartless, cold, and well just plain spooky. He is the kind of man you’d not want to meet in a dark alley, or a thunderstorm. And when he comes for Ultima, his soft spoken dialogue is even more chilling. 

The movie doesn’t have the engaging story telling presence that is in the novel, partially due to the use of Alfred Molina as the narrative voice over, and some of the most engaging characters, Antonio’s young friends, are never developed. However, Ultima makes up for many of those pitfalls. She is mystical, engaging, likable, and easy to love. In the end, the relationship between Colon and Ganalon make the film worth watching.

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