Cinematography, story and acting make book-turned-film the Latino grapes of wrath
By Adrian Perez, Vida de Oro
Bless Me,Ultima, the critically acclaimed and controversial book by author Rudolfo A. Anaya has come to the silver screen. The book, which is required reading in some school districts while being banned in others, touches on the concepts of good versus evil, childhood learning, cultural beliefs, and parenting. To the delight of its millions of fans, the film by the same name will reach theaters around the country on February 22, 2013.
The film adaptation of Bless Me, Ultima, is superbly written and directed by Carl Franklin (Devil In A BlueDress) who knew going into the project that not all components of the book could be included in the film. What he does present is a masterful film that stays true to the essence of Anaya’s original story.
Set in the rural town of Guadalupe, New Mexico during WWII, the story centers around Antonio Mares, a preteen boy wonderfully played by newcomer Luke Ganalon, a new face in cinema whose credits include guest appearances on several television programs and lead roles in advertising commercials. Although Ganalon’s Antonio appears a bit younger than what the book described, Franklin’s lead role casting pays off as the audience quickly connects with the innocense and learning experiences of the preteen.
Ultima is Antonio’s life guide, expertly played by veteran screen actor Miriam Colon, who played key roles in several older films like The One-Eyed Jacks and The Appaloosa both with Marlon Brando. The Puerto Rican born Colon delivers perhaps the best performance of her acting career as the older curandera (medicine woman), who takes Antonio as her apprentice, teaching him to cure illnesses and break fevers using herbs. She also teaches him how to remove evil spells.
Antonio’s parents are played by Benito Martinez (best known for his award winning role as David Aceveda in The Shield) and Dolores Heredia (also an award-winning Mexican actress whose credits expand Mexican cinema and television). Heredia plays the role of Maria Mares convincingly, telling Antonio that one day he will grow up to be a priest. Martinez, originally from New Mexico, plays the role of Gabriel Marez, a rancher who aspires that Antonio will follow in his steps, especially since his older sons left the town to make a living elsewhere.
No film will work without a beliveable and disliked villan, a role brought to life by veteran stage actor Castulo Guerra, who plays Tenorio Trementina, the town’s saloon owner, barber and father of three daughters who practice witchcraft. Tenerio becomes Ultima’s nemisis believing she cursed his daughters and had an owl scratch out his right eye. His obsession in ridding Ultima leads him to kill the town drunk, which is witnessed by Antonio.
Like in the book, the film captures a conflict in religious teachings, especially with the dynamic performance by teenage actor Diego Miro, whose character of Florence raises questions about God and religion. Florence is a troubled teen who doesn’t believe in God, but goes to catechisim to hang out with his friends. Antonio enjoys Florence as a friend, but feels uncomfortable when his friend points out the flaws in the Catholic religion.
BlessMe, Ultima is a great film with stunning cinematography that can be credited to Paula Huidobro, for being able to capture the look of old New Mexico through breath-taking shots of what was still untamed land.
Although it is rated PG, parents will want to bring their school children to enjoy a marvelousely well told story about the lessons of life.