Film

Kids Only

Bless Me, Ultima's Not-for-Kids Kids' Story

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THE PROBLEM with most kids' movies is that they're made for kids. They're written to be understood by tiny brains, scaled down to the wants and fears and expectations of unfinished mini-humans. They take place in child-centric worlds shown from a child's perspective, and are more often than not stuffed with rapping kangaroos and farting ghosts and whatever else 10-year-old boys think are funny. (Note: I do not actually know any 10-year-old boys.)

But when you're a kid, the world is a large, serious place; adult affairs intrude in ways that are frequently tragic or baffling. To its enormous credit, Bless Me, Ultima understands this. I'm not actually sure if the film is supposed to be for children or merely about them, but it gives full credit to the seriousness of childhood.

The coming-of-age story centers on a young boy, Antonio (Luke Ganalon), and his relationship with the elderly Ultima (Miriam Colon), who comes to live with his family as she nears death. Ultima's earth-centric beliefs put her at odds with the devout, pleasure-denying Catholicism of the neighboring community. This conflict is often quite literally life and death; there's quite a lot of death, in fact, as Antonio is pulled in opposing directions by the Catholicism of his family, and the darker, possibly witchcraft-y practices of his friend Ultima.

Ultima works passably as an adult film: stakes are high, conflicts are well articulated, and supernatural elements are incorporated with minimal fuss. It works far better as a kids' movie, though—a movie that seriously and spookily dramatizes some of life's big questions. Just... don't bring your kids if they're gonna be squeamish about seeing someone's eye get ripped out by an owl.

Related Film

Bless Me, Ultima

Director: Carl Franklin

Producer: Jesse Beaton, Mark Johnson, Tom Williams, Sarah DiLeo, Kevin Reidy and Christy Walton

Cast: Miriam Colon, Benito Martinez, Dolores Heredia, Castulo Guerra, Joaquín Cosio, Reko Moreno, Joseph Garcia, Raul Castillo, Miguel Gómez, Luke Ganalon, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Luis Bordonada

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