Bless Me, Ultima is based on a novel written by acclaimed author Rudolfo Anaya and adapted for the screen by director and screenwriter Carl Franklin. Set in New Mexico during World War II, a small town is torn apart by a struggle between good and evil while a young buy experiences his own trials as he learns about life, religion, and family.
As the elderly woman Ultima arrives at the Marez family home to live out her remaining days, she brings along a bewitching reputation that does not sit well with some of the other town folks. While having a talent for healing and caring for others has actually perpetuated this label, she is more concerned with strengthening the bond she shares with the family's youngest son Antonio as he begins his first classes at school.
As the Marez family goes through hardships, discoveries, controversies, and achievements, the one thing that remains constant is their love for each other. While the young Antonio continues to learn life lessons both in school and in the church, his father Gabriel looks forward to the day he can take his family to what he believes is a better life in California. When evil inevitably surfaces, everyone's faith will be put to the test as traditional beliefs clash with a world moving in to a more modern time and Ultima must do everything she can to preserve her way of life.
First and foremost, Bless Me, Ultima is a stunningly beautiful movie. The cinematography captures the heart and soul of the time period and the sweeping visuals keep your eyes begging to see more of the pristine countryside and the washed out color pallet of lives filled with equal parts struggle and heart. This is definitely a movie you will enjoy seeing on a theater screen even if you end up a little confused by the story.
When novels are adapted into a movie, there are usually a lot of concessions made, changes implemented, and limitations accepted to the point where what makes a book so engaging can be diluted or lost altogether. Having not read the book, I can only imagine a richer and more vibrant story unfolding on the page than what I saw play out on the screen. There were times it was hard to stay fully engaged, but overall this was still a solid movie with characters you really care for.
As a period piece, Bless Me, Ultima works very well although it lacks the emotional punch to put it over the top as a great film. The story goes in some unexpected directions and tends to wander around without putting a closing stamp on any of the interwoven story lines. I would probably recommend reading the book before seeing the movie so you might have a better understanding of everything that's going on.