Tag: miriam colon

Bless Me, Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

There is a new addition to the Márez household and word has it that she is no ordinary person. Her name is Ultima (Miriam Colon) and there are those believe that she is a bruja, a witch, while others refer to her as a curandera, a gifted being with great powers of healing. Six-year-old Antonio (Luke Ganalon) grows close to the old woman because she shares her wisdom with him. Eventually, Antonio is inspired to ask questions about his faith and morality, why evil exists, and why evil sometimes goes unpunished.

The film is not about religion even though the central character is a Catholic. It is about spirituality and the story weaves in coincidences, faith, and mysticism to create a fabric of childhood memories that is magical and vibrant. And with my experiences, having been raised in a Catholic household and environment, I found that a lot of the feelings—the fears, the curiosities, the questions—ring true. I still have my memory of a curandera coming to visit my grandmother’s house, the area rural at the time—over summer vacation to help rid someone of an evil spirit.

It is an immersive look into a specific life because it takes its time to engage the senses and bothers with details. For instance, when Ultima points out certain plants she uses to make medicine to Antonio, the camera shows us the leaves, the stems, how it moves against the wind, and what sort of environment it prefers. We feel the boy not only listening but also thinking and processing the information that his given to him. Later, it makes sense that he notices the contradictions in his faith, whether it be through teachings or how people around him choose to live their lives.

In a lot of ways, the story, based on the novel by Rudolfo Anaya, is about outsiders. Antonio’s family lives away from everybody else. Ultima is feared. That is, until her services are needed. Once she has done her job, her name is back to being whispered about. One of Antonio’s friends, Florence (Diego Miró), is given a hard time by the other kids because he does not believe in God, only attending catechism because he wants to be with his friends. Even Antonio is an outsider. He is willing to probe so deeply into his faith that there are times when he is mocked. We sympathize with these outsiders in the way they are treated by others and circumstance.

It is a wise decision to minimize the magic—if it occurred in the first place. Notice that there are fewer magical elements and realistic images become more prevalent as the protagonist gets older. The three Márez brothers coming home from the war, disillusionment, and deaths move to the center slowly and claim appropriate gravity.

Written and directed by Carl Franklin, “Bless Me, Ultima” provides a beautiful portrait of clashes: Mexican and Native American heritage, the effects of the war and being at home, generational gap between children and parents, blindly following and questioning. Once in a while a thoughtful movie comes along and it requires a thoughtful audience.

Lone Star

Lone Star (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★

When a skeleton was discovered alongside a badge that belonged to former Sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson), a corrupt man who held Frontera in his vise grip, Sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) led the investigation. Sam suspected the murderer was his late father, Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), a legendary figure in town, because rumors went around that the night Charlie Wade disappeared, there was an altercation between Buddy and Charlie. Written and directed by John Sayles, I was fascinated with the film because the town was menudo of diversity when it came to ethnicity, culture, and intentions. Although there was racial tension among the African-Americans, Mexicans, and Anglos, there was a deep complexity among their relationships. The town was on the verge of critical change and Sam was torn in many directions. He was careful in trying to preserve that change, the present, but at the same time he was torn about his feelings toward a Hispanic teacher, and former childhood flame, named Pilar (Elizabeth Peña), the past. There was something about her that he felt he needed to get to know more on a personal or a romantic level. The passing of time and the distance he created between them didn’t seem to hinder their connection. Cooper injected his character with subtlety and grace. When he stared off into space and recollected the past, we looked with him and struggled to make sense of the literal skeletons that surfaced. For some reason, he was convinced that his father’s name wasn’t as clean as the residents claimed. After all, memories change and the mind tends to repress the negative when word-of-mouth focused on the positive and optimism. When Sam interviewed men who knew his father back in the day, such as the cop (Clifton James) and the pub owner (Ron Canada), there was a mutual respect between the current sheriff and the men who were used to living in simpler times. The subplots were equally fascinating. There was Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon), Pilar’s mother and a cafe owner, who looked down on her own people. She was quick to call the Border Patrol when she herself got into the country illegally. We often heard her telling her workers, “Speak English! This is America.” It was painful to watch because it was almost as if she was embarrassed of her roots. However, I found myself being able to relate to her since that self-hatred was a familiar feeling. As a pre-teen immigrant, turning my back on my ethnicity seemed like the only solution at the time in order to feel like I belonged. The Ms. Cruz character was often played for laughs but I understood her need to assimilate. Lastly, there was an excellent scene between a soldier (Chandra Wilson) and a colonel (Joe Morton). The former lacked ambition, seeing her role in the military as someone who simply followed orders, while the latter thought about long-term goals and defying the odds. It was interesting when the two shared the same room because, in a way, it also reflected the mindsets of the past and present. Although sometimes confusing because of the number of characters it juggled, I found “Lone Star” beautiful because it managed to capture the lyricism of it meant to be in a diverse community on the verge of change. It treated us like the smart people we are and it didn’t compromise for the sake of easy answers.