Carl Franklin's adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya's classic novel Bless Me, Ultima offers some wonderful grace notes, and a magnificent anchor in Miriam Colon, who plays Ultima-- also called La Grande-- a curandera who works with herbs and who communes with nature and the spirit world. Colon's performance and beautifully weathered visage convey the wisdom and fearlessness of one who has trafficked with and learned to respect forces beyond most human comprehension. Both book and film celebrate spiritual practices that predate los conquistadors and Christianity, illuminating the ways that assimilation eroded cultural traditions while presenting the Latino community as a dynamic thread long woven into the American fabric. But Bless Me ultimately, and ironically, pulls up short because of its fealty to its source material-- it attempts to shoehorn in all that the novel covers, which would take a miniseries to do justice. Some poetic moments underscore Franklin's talents but also hint at what the film might have been with more judicial shaping. The lead and supporting actors are largely fine. When young Antonio (Luke Ganalon), our narrator, eats lunch on his first day in a New Mexico school, he's laughed out of class for unpacking a burrito. He flees outside to find a small group of boys slumped quietly against a wall, eating their similarly uncool meals. Volumes are said about class, assimilation, and the ways the assimilated sometimes shame and scar those who haven't shorn themselves of ethnic or racial signifiers. There is pungency in this shorthand, in these sketches that are richly evocative without saying too much or giving too little. You can't help but wish the movie had more of it.
Carl FranklinLuke Ganalon, Miriam Colon, Benito Martinez, Dolores Heredia, Castulo Guerra, Joaquín Cosio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Reko Moreno, Luis Bordonada, Joseph A. GarciaCarl FranklinJesse Beaton, Sarah DiLeo, Mark JohnsonArenas Entertainment