In the mystical world of Bless Me, Ultima, women stick pins in doughy voodoo dolls and men vomit up physical manifestations of evil that look like squirming black Koosh balls. Carl Franklin’s film, adapted from Rudolfo Anaya’s 1972 novel, takes place in a version of 1940s New Mexico where first-graders soberly discuss sin and debate the existence of God. The story follows 7-year-old Antonio’s relationship with the elderly Ultima, a healer with herbal and magical powers. As Ultima (a graceful though one-dimensional Míriam Colón) teaches Antonio the ways of nature and of the universe, the boy must reconcile her supernatural and pagan beliefs with the doctrines of the Catholic church. This leads to an overabundance of ham-fisted dialogue (“When one tampers with the fate of a man, a chain of events is set in action that none can control,” Ultima intones), as well as gratuitously pedantic narration by an adult Antonio. It’s a shame—Paula Huidobro’s cinematography nicely captures the stark beauty and dramatic weather of rural New Mexico, but this is undercut by the voice-over that painstakingly spells out each moment of significance. As Antonio, Luke Ganolon is slightly stiff but appealingly inquisitive, and for such a fablelike tale, Franklin mostly avoids mawkishness. He’s constructed a respectful adaptation, yet one that—squirming Koosh balls aside—never really pulses with its own sense of life.
- Running Time:
- Release Date: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
- Critic's Score: B-
- Watch the trailer