Bless Me, Ultima is an adaptation of the classic Chicano novel of the same name written in 1972 by Rudolph Anaya. Although I'd never read the book, I'd heard of it because it is assigned reading in some schools...and has been subsequently banned in others.
In seeing this film, it is extremely hard to imagine what on earth could have been offensive enough to get this poignant and spiritual tale banned from schools. From what I've read, parents apparently had concerns about the language and sexual references. As far as the film goes, there is nothing to be concerned about. I'd feel perfectly comfortable taking a ten year old to see it, although they might not fully appreciate it.
The story takes place at the time of WWII in rural New Mexico. The filming and scenes of the dry, but beautiful landscapes set a great atmosphere. The dramatic tale of family conflict, community conflict, and spiritual conflict is made powerful by its subtlety. The coming-of age feels believable and even monumental in a way. And the scenes of Tony and his school friends are funny and touching, as well genuine, in recalling those universal moments of boyhood.
The true highlights of this film, though, are the main characters as they are portrayed by Luke Ganalon and Miriam Colon. Luke plays Tony, a bright and thoughtful six year old who forms a special bond with an elderly curandera (think 'medicine-woman'), Ultima (Colon).
The faces of these two actors are almost heartbreakingly beautiful: Tony's radiating angelic innocence and Ultima's radiating strength and wisdom. A close-up of each of their faces elicited such surprisingly strong feelings in me. That's a very special gift.
If there was any downside to the film, I felt that some of the supporting actors were a bit weak. Although, I thought that Dolores Heredia, who played Tony's mother, was great. Also, the story is mystical and spiritual, which isn't something some people can wrap their heads around. Still, my sis and I both really enjoyed this. As a matter of fact, I'd see it again. Message me, if you wanna go!