A friend of mine just sent me an article predicting the end of film criticism.
But I'm not thinking as much about the death of this art form as I am the demise of my illustrious partner.
After watching this lovely and truly moving story about a six-year-old boy, Antonio Marez (Luke Ganalon) and his relationship with an elderly woman, Ultima (Miriam Colon), I was stunned top learn that my other half hated the movie. I was visibly shocked, as this is the type of film we had always loved in the past.
There are no car chases or horrific gun battles in the world of Ultima and Antonio, though there is murder and mystery. Members of the community (the men, of course) in this small town of Guadalupe, New Mexico are fearful of Ultima and her healing powers. They claim she is a witch and they want to kill her.
But Antonio's father, Gabriel (Benito Martinez) stands his ground, along with his wife, Maria (Dolores Heredia) and their drunken friend Narcisco (Joaquin Cosio). But Tenorio (Castulo Guerra), the father of the village's evil sisters, vows to exact revenge for the death of one of his daughters.
Based on the novel of the same name by Rudolfo Anaya, "Bless Me, Ultima" is a magical compilation of family, life, death, religion and the meaning of it all. So much of the happiness and hardships of our time on earth are revealed in the short span of this movie. Antonio searches desperately for the meaning in all that he witnesses, but the answers do not come readily to him, even after his First Holy Communion on Easter Sunday, as promised by his mother.
We have seen some wondrous child actors recently, and Ganalon takes his place among them. He's a wondrously expressive young boy who never overplays his youth or sweetness. His earnestness is palpable and so is his empathy for others. We believe he cherishes Ultima and all that she wishes to impart to him.
Colon has had a long and varied career, with a crowning achievement as the wise old woman versed in the ways of healing. Heck, I would love to spend a week with her out on the plains of New Mexico trying to soak up all of her knowledge. She's brilliant in her quiet effectiveness.
The other outstanding member of the cast is Heredia, Antonio's mother. Her beauty is remarkable, but it does not interfere with her ability to play the loving, often-seen-but-not- heard parent. Her presence in the film is essential.
Despite whatever David may condemn in his review, "Bless Me, Ultima" is a worthwhile movie going experience. The sweeping, open grandeur of the New Mexico plains versus the small-mindedness of Guadalupe is beautifully filmed by Paula Huidobro. Director Carl Franklin has brought to life this poignant tale in a most meaningful way. We should all be thankful.
Opinion: See It Now!
An elderly woman comes to live out the rest of her days with an Hispanic family in New Mexico. There is the father, Gabriel (Benito Martinez), his wife, Maria (Dolores Heredia), and three of their children. The time is 1944, and the couple's other three children are sons due to return home from the war. This curandera (medicine woman) Ultima (Miriam Colon) however, is no ordinary person. She has great healing powers, and was the midwife when six-year-old Antonio was born. In one of the few gripping scenes in the film, Ultima rescues a dying man from certain death by having him ingest a special formula, allowing him to expel the evil that was the curse of a trio of local witches.
"Bless Me, Ultima" is a beautifully photographed film, but it has a lot of problems. The central character is Antonio (Luke Ganalon), who takes to the curandera's side, and believes in her curative abilities. Director Carl Franklin and his crew provide plenty of extreme close-ups of their players, and although Antonio is quite cute and appealing --- Ganalon is a fine little actor --- we don't really care that much about him. The same can be said for all the cast members in this film. It's easy to blame that on sketchy character development, but the bigger issue is the film's disjointed flow.
We move from one episode to another, many not seemingly related to any other. For example, Antonio, on his first day of grade school, gets laughed at because his lunch is a tortilla and not Wonder Bread. Eventually he makes his own set of friends. One of these is a red-headed boy named Florence (Diego Miro), who questions the existence of God because his mother died when he was three, his father is an alcoholic, and his sister is a prostitute.
This movie is trying very hard , on so many levels, to be a religious experience for its characters, and maybe for its audience. I realize that the story is based on a book, but something may have gotten lost in the translation.
There is a mean-spirited priest at the school who represents the strict discipline of the Catholic church. And in one scene, a man is shot to death and asks Antonio, who is hiding in the grass during this altercation, if the young boy would bless him before he dies. But Antonio exclaims that he's not a priest --- an example of his inner conflict since his staunchly Catholic mother wants him to enter the priesthood.
Other than the aforementioned cure of the dying man, not much happens here until one of the evil sisters perishes. Her crazed father, Tenorio (Castulo Guerra), blames his daughter's death on Ultima, proclaiming her a witch herself. Tenorio proceeds to gather a posse of townspeople and descends on Gabriel's home like the manic mob from the Frankenstein films. They demand Ultima be handed over, but of course, Gabriel is not about to do that, so he fends off the accusers.
Ultima, hearing the commotion outside, comes through the door, and before any of the mob can say a word, an owl, which we've seen several times before, makes a beeline for Tenorio's head and plucks out his right eye. Not to worry, the film is not so graphic as to actually show that, but we see the fake blood.
So the rest of the movie has Tenorio threatening Ultima, Antonio and anyone else within earshot. We never worry about Antonio being killed or even hurt badly because the film's narrator is Antonio as an adult. Pretty hard to create suspense when we know the main character survives long enough to tell his own story. Anyway, Tenori's main antagonist is Narciso (wildly overplayed by Joaquin Cosio), and their several encounters are more silly than alarming. Meanwhile, in a side storyline, the three returning soldiers are restless to get on with their lives, causing great strife within Gabriel's household. Again, do we care?
Again, fabulously photographed --- let's give credit to Director of Photgraphy Paula Huidobro --- but "Bless Me, Ultima", based on Rudolfo Anaya's 1972 novel, is ultimately not a good movie.
Opinion: Don't Bother!