The book "Bless Me, Ultima" is a widely read and critically acclaimed piece of Chicano literature that also has been quite divisive since its publication in 1972. Some critics and parents have decried Rudolfo Anaya's novel as anti-Catholic or too profane and pushed to have it banned from school districts across the country.
The movie is a mostly gentle and tastefully photographed depiction of a young boy's coming of age in rural 1940s New Mexico. His maturation includes a questioning of the Catholic faith of his parents and a curiosity about the Native American mysticism of his elders. But such musings feel more like an inherent part of the progression into adolescence, a fine-tuning of identity, rather than an intentionally subversive force. Besides, Luke Ganalon, who plays the boy at the center of the story, couldn't be a more adorably precocious and optimistic little scamp. What sort of damage could he possibly do?
Writer-director Carl Franklin presents the journey of Ganalon's character, the wide-eyed Antonio Marez, in ways that are restrained and sometimes even stiff, despite the magic and violence that co-exist alongside each other. But there is an earnestness and genuine sense of affection here that are appealing.
An elderly curandera, or folk healer (the formidable Miriam Colon), has come to spend her final days with Antonio's family in their modest home. Whispers in town that Ultima is a witch add to her mystery, but her inner kindness becomes obvious.
Rated PG-13 for some violence and sexual references.