"Bless Me, Ultima" is a Must-Watch Family Film

Adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya's classic spiritually-tinged novel is a funny, tragic, suspenseful and beautiful movie

By Abelardo de la Pe??a Jr., el editor
Published on LatinoLA: February 23, 2013

"Bless Me, Ultima" is a Must-Watch Family Film

Latinos watch a lot of movies. My family is Latino. We watch a lot of movies.

Just in the last few weeks alone, we've made it a point to see each of the films nominated for Best Picture. DVDs, matinees, and online streams certainly helped!

It's been highly enjoyable experience, due to the quality of the stories and actors and the diversity of themes. Some were based on actual historical events Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables. Django Unchained re-imagined history. Relationships were at the center of Amour and Silver Linings Playbook. Dramatic fantasy drove Beasts of the Southern Wild, while Life of Pi mixed adventure, drama and spirituality.

My family will find out who the winner is, along with everyone else, on Sunday night during the telecast. I've got my favorite, but so do the others, so it's led to lively discussions. We don't agree on everything. Typical Latinos.

This week, though, we saw a movie that we could finally agree on. It's "Bless Me, Ultima", based on classic novel by Rudolfo Anaya. It's a family drama, tinged with spirituality, relationships, revenge, religion and culture. Heavy themes, woven within a tapestry of inter-related storylines that are simply told, yet poetically complex.

At the center are two main characters: seven-year-old Antonio Mares, the youngest member of a New Mexico farming family, and Ultima, also known as La Grande, an aged relative spending her final days with the family at their farm. Antonio is a curious and intelligent boy who's fated to become the family's savior as a priest. Ultima is a curandera, revered by some for her power to fuse the gifts from the earth to create cures for ailments and despised by others for being a bruja, a witch.

Ultima takes Antonio under her wings, guiding his discovery of the magic and power of nature. This awakened knowledge helps him understand and respond to the dramas of his day-to-day life: Fitting in at school, learning religious rituals, reacting to his brothers' wayward ways, and repelling the effects of evil.

Wise and wary Ultima, has her own battles to fight, particularly with the rich and powerful Trementina family. The father, Tenorio, is rabid in his plot to bring harm to Ultima and her family

There are a few other stories intertwined in the movie, which slowly unfolds in the cinematic splendor of the New Mexican plains. "Bless Me, Ultima" is at once hilariously funny, sadly tragic, seat-edge suspenseful and spellbindingly beautiful. Concentration is required, maybe even a second viewing, to understand and appreciate the complexity of the story, the powerful acting and the underlying messages.

Experiencing it once, as my family did, was revelatory. In this hype-laden week celebrating 'the best of Hollywood', I recommend taking the family to see "Bless Me, Ultima." It's not only a story about Latinos, but an American movie with cultura at its core.

Let me know what you think. Enter your comments below.

Please see calendar listing for "Bless Me, Ultima" to find out where it is playing this weekend in Southern California.

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