Rudolfo Anaya’s 1972 Bless Me, Ultikma is the most-read Chicano novel ever. Laced with mystery and magic, full of questions any child might ask about life and set in a beautiful part of our nation, it is a lovely tale. And, this film written and directed by Carl Franklin Devil In A Blue Dress, NIght Moves) does it complete justice.
It is 1944. Seven year-old Antonio Márez (Luke Ganalon) lives in New Mexico. His brothers have gone off to war and Ultima (Miriam Colon), a curandero — a healer — has come to his home. She serves as his confidante, teacher and protector whose life force is embodied by an owl. Many townspeople call her “bruja” (witch) but she always seems to work her healing art and Antonio learns a great deal from her. She is, in fact, an island of calm and assuredness in the tumultuous sea that is Antonio’s life.
As we accompany Antonio on his search for meaning in his life (“what is evil?”) our journey takes us to his school, where he has a friend who questions the existence of God and the need to take communion. We meet assorted relatives.
Filmed in New Mexico, the scenery is gorgeous. Colon, a well-established stage actor whose been in many films, plays and TV shows, has both the acting chops and the perfect fact for Ultima. She absolutely shines in this role. Newcomer Luke Ganalon is also perfect in his role. With him, we want his questions answered and, because he’s so likable, we want to see him happy.
Of course, Bless Me, Ultima is neither fast-paced nor action-packed. It is thoughtful, absorbing and — dare I say it? — educational. It is a film very much worth seeing.