Film Review: ‘Bless Me, Ultima’ Commits Sin Against Cinema

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CHICAGO – One of the major tenets of the “memoir” genre – the type of film in which a main character is looking back at their lives – is the unforgettable character that influences them forever. New Mexico during World War II is the setting for “Bless Me, Ultima.” Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

Based on a popular novel, the character of Ultima is an old woman who comes to live with her Mexican family in America. She possesses magical powers of vague proportions, and is thought of by others as a witch. For some reason, the little boy in the story (the person looking back at his life) is enamored of Ultima, except when he isn’t. The film doesn’t specifically focus on Ultima, and even though she is the title character she disappears for long stretches in the story, while other moments of the boy’s life are emphasized. There is no focus in the narrative, and all the characters are written broadly or introduced and shuffled aside. This creates a glacial pace for the story, which needs a blessing of some sort, mostly in the form of a rewrite from a heaven-sent screenwriter.

Antonio (Luke Ganalon) is a seven year-old boy living in New Mexico in the U.S. in the 1940s. His mother Maria (Dolores Heredia) and father Gabriel (Benito Martinez) take in an older relative named Ultima (Maria Colon). She is a curandera, a healer, and her powers border on the supernatural. The small town characterizes her as a witch, and when she is called upon to lift a curse from one of Antonio’s uncles – the unfortunate man witnessed the three daughters of town saloonkeeper Tenorio (Castulo Guerra) practicing Satanic rituals – the fallout comes when one of the daughters dies.

This allows the villainous Tenorio to have an obsession against Ultima, and pursues her, with intention to kill her, throughout the movie. Meanwhile, Antonio is starting school, and begins a series of episodic scenarios which highlight the memorable people in his life, including Narciso the town drunk, his various childhood friends (including one boy who is oddly an atheist), the town priest Father Byrnes and eventually Ultima again, who pops up occasionally to remind Antonio who has the power.

“Bless Me Ultima” continues its limited release in Chicago on February 22th. See local listings for theaters and showtimes. Featuring Luke Ganalon, Miriam Colon, Benito Martinez, Dolories Heredia and Castulo Guerra. Screenplay adapted and directed by Carl Franklin. Rated “PG-13”

StarContinue reading for Patrick McDonald’s full review of “Bless Me, Ultima”

Luke Ganalon, Miriam Colon
Antonio (Luke Ganalon) Listens to Ultima (Miriam Colon) in ‘Bless Me, Ultima’
Photo credit: Arenas Entertainment

StarContinue reading for Patrick McDonald’s full review of “Bless Me, Ultima”

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