The award-winning novel Bless Me, Ultima, by author Rudolfo Anaya, arrives in theaters this weekend, based on the adaptation penned by Carl Franklin, who also directs the feature film although his most recent work as a director has been in television since 2007. I recommend viewing the film, regardless if the viewer has read the book or not ahead of time. Alfred Molina narrates and this fills in some areas that may not be clear to anyone unfamiliar with the themes in the film.
The very engaging story by Anaya is brought to life by child and veteran actors alike that deliver their lines convincingly and for many, it is a reminder of days gone by or, of a time that elders refer to when they relate some unpleasant memories around the pre and post WWII era for people of color. Luke Ganalon portrays Antonio (Tony) Luna Mares and does a fantastic job with the lead role, acting alongside Miriam Colon as Ultima, the curandera (healer) known as La Grande by townsfolk. All of the cast members merit recognition for their contribution to this independent production that was able to obtain this caliber of veteran talent.
Miriam Colon has to her acting credits One-Eyed Jacks, with Marlon Brando, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Scarface, to name a few. Well known Mexican born actor, Joaquín Cosio, has many credits to his name in Mexican cinema, but has crossed over into English language films including Savages, A Better Life, Saving Private Perez and will portray Jesus in The Lone Ranger this year. He is great as Narciso.
Bless Me, Ultima also has actors with ties to Texas. Former Austin/McAllen resident, Raúl Castillo, portrays Andrew, one of Antonio’s older three brothers who return from the war. Andrew stays to work in town while the other two siblings decide to leave for Santa Fe to earn a living. He has more screen time that the other two of Tony’s older siblings and Castillo excelled in his performance. Texas is proud! Castillo was in the short Tadpoles, directed by Miguel Alvarez (2005), performed in the community based theater production, La Pastorela and has to his more recent film credits Cold Weather, Narcocorrido and My Best Day.
Making his feature film debut, Diego Miró is born and raised in Austin. He portrays Florence in the film and is Antonio’s school mate, but they do not have the same family stability or the religious upbringing. Although Florence does not have the same belief, he hangs around the children at the church to have someone to be with. He suffers from the loss of his mother and family dysfunction that leads him to feel he has been abandoned. Miró has a couple of scenes that make the viewer feel his pain and then later, feels a sense of loss. This talented young teen will be seen later this year in Now You See Me, as Young Dylan.
The cinematography by Paula Huidobro is to be commended, in particular for the landscape scenes, but as well for the close up shots that capture the range of the characters emotions that vary from pain and rage, to laughter and good times. Huidobro has to her credit the Mexican film, Aquí Entre Nos, released in Mexico last year and is one of my very favorite screenings during the Cine las Americas International Film Festival.
This independent production’s executive producer, Christy Walton stated in a press release from Arenas, the distributor, “I kept and read the book by Rudolfo Anaya for over 25 years, always thinking that it should be shared in film. Now, I am proud to say that it is a wonderful movie as well as a wonderful book.”
The film had an El Paso release in mid-September 2012 and subsequently opened in five theaters in New Mexico on October 19, 2012. Bless Me, Ultima opens today, February 22nd in limited release in theaters around the nation. Texas has several cities and theaters where it is available, but if it is not opening in your city, it can be requested through www.tugg.com/titles/bless-me-ultima
[Photos courtesy of Arenas]