Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bless Me, Ultima

Why is there evil in the world?
By Jan McClure

Movie Review of
Bless Me, Ultima
Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Luke Ganalon, Miriam Colon, Benito Martinez, Dolores Heredia, Castulo Guerra

I grew up and went to college in busy southern California, and then with my first “real” job I moved to the fast pace of Phoenix, and from there transferred to the slow pace of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I live now.  At first,  I had a hard time adjusting to the slower stride.   I would become so impatient with the slow pace of drivers that I felt irate and irritated.  Many of the transplants I met from other states said that instead of New Mexico being called of the Land of Enchantment, it was the land of maƱana (or tomorrow).  Eventually I learned to take my own speed down a few notches and enjoy life and be more in the present and grow in the virtue of patience. 

This movie provided me with the same opportunity. It takes place (and was filmed) in New Mexico, and I found it to be very similar to my first experience with this state.  So instead of fighting the slower style of the movie, I realized I just needed to relax and really enjoy the incredible photography and beauty of New Mexico. 

The movie is based on Rudolpho Anaya’s 1972 novel and takes us back to the 1940’s, during the time of the Second World War.  The movie begins by panning slowly and gracefully over the breathtaking landscape, showin the quiet and simple beauty of New Mexico and it’s unique architecture.  One shot shows a beautifully painted Lady of Guadelupe, which is very representative of what we see in this state, and this is the name of the town where the story takes place.  

The opening line of the film – “Why is there evil in the world?” – sets the stage for the coming of age of a young 6-year-old named Antonio Marez (played by Luke Ganalon).  An old woman dressed in black arrives, and we are not sure if she is good or evil.  Her name is Ultima (played by Miriam Colon). Many call her a witch, but she considered herself a “curandera,” someone with healing knowledge of natural and medicinal herbs and remedies.  Antonio and Ultima begin a unique friendship and bond, and she begins to share her views and knowledge with the young boy. 

The movie is shown through Antonio’s eyes, and he sees much that he doesn’t understand, and he sees too much death for such a young child.  Antonio and his two older sisters attend Catholic school, and the 3 older brothers have just returned from the war and are trying to adjust. We are shown the simplicity that life had back then, but also the harsher realities of hard times.  The father was discontent, because he had left his life as a cowboy to please his wife and to work on the highway.  His unhappiness develops into a drinking problem.    

Antonio’s mother, Maria, (played by Dolores Heredia) wants her son to become a priest instead of following in his father’s footsteps, and I found myself wanting him to become one too.  The young actor played his part well.  I also really enjoyed how they portrayed the Catholic faith, especially the children “playing” confession.  The film tastefully includes the many questions that Antonio and his classmates have regarding belief in God, the meaning of sin, heaven and hell, Confession, and First Holy Communion.  

As Antonio tries to gain an understanding of why there is evil and where the soul goes, he learns that there are other ways of seeing life, and he tries to understand the different views of those around him, gaining insight into what his father thinks as well as what Ultima’s views. His not-so-religious father, Gabriel (played by Benito Martinez) tells him that it takes time to grow up and understand but that we never fully do.  Ultima shares her wisdom with Antonio about life and her faith in the power of the earth and the river.

At one point the movie deals with the subject of witchcraft:  There are three sister “brujas” or witches who place a curse on Antonio’s Uncle Luna.  Traditional medicine fails to cure him, and the local priest is unsuccessful too.  Therefore, Ultima believes it is her duty to show that goodness always overcomes evil, and she brings Antonio along to help.  Ultima successfully alleviates the curse; however later two of the sisters die.  The sisters’ father, Tenorio (played by Castulo Guerra) decides to seek revenge.

The movie is a great reminder that children are exposed to many different types of beliefs and how important it is to guide and teach their formation.  Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, so that when he is old he will not depart from it.” 

Even as adults the question about why evil exists can sometimes be difficult to understand, but the bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”  If we are prepared and know our answers, then we can form our children – and help other adults as well.

We know that evil exists because of our free will; we sin.  God is a gentleman and allows us to make choices.  We can choose to be with Him or against Him, but as Ultima points out in the film, good always prevails.  She was correct, but she did not take the First Commandment to heart: We shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. Instead, she felt that her power came from the earth and the river.  She was a good and wise woman, but her beliefs were not totally the Truth.   This is where guidance is needed to help young people understand the Christian faith. 

I left the movie pondering how many different sub-plots there were, and I am sure I missed several of them.  The movie portrays the era very well and brings up several important moral issues.  It doesn’t spell out everything but leaves us with questions to ponder, which I enjoyed.  I almost would like to see it again to discover what more there is to take in.

Rated PG-13, the movie has quite a lot of violence and death that might be difficult for very young children, but it has opportunities for great discussions with older children,  especially addressing the questions below.

On a side note, the heiress of the Wal-Mart fortune funded production of this movie, as she was passionate about the novel and none of the major movie producers were willing to take the chance. 

Questions for youth groups, families, and other small group discussions (and we hope you will post a comment below!):
  1. Why is there evil in the world?
  2. We should protect and take care of our earth, but does it have a power of its own?  Why would it be a sin to think that it does?
  3. Why would a healing take place, not through traditional medicine, or through a priest, but through a “curandera”? How does a Catholic priest provide healing in real life?
To download this movie, go to
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