Without doubt, however, mystical, magical elements drive the drama. The grandmotherly Ultima, always dressed in black, commands her world, including a predatory owl that executes her judgments. She visits a young man suffering from an accident that brought a curse and demonstrates several examples of her formidable power. All this feeds Antonio's reflections on the nature of good and evil in his society.
Fair enough--accept this supernatural world or not, it becomes tiresome to watch a wide-eyed Antonio. There's no complexity as he comments on events from a more mature hindsight in voiceover narration, though he never makes an adult appearance. Instead, director Carl Franklin relies on Antonio to serve as viewers' surrogate, but his lack of insight bogs down Franklin's adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya's novel.
There are some pluses. As Ultima, veteran actress Miriam Colon strikes the proper balance of menace and kindness, dependent on the individuals and events. Luke Ganalon as Antonio has charm but not enough range. Other family and community members--the father and mother, the sons and relatives, teachers and classmates--lend convincing performances.
A warmth expressed in the lighting and the interaction defines many home scenes as the importance of family comes through but the many threads in the story don't always mesh well. As a result, characters and ideas periodically feel badly underdeveloped despite real promise. I so enjoyed the family dynamics that I wanted more of that and less of the retribution. With that reaction, "Bless Me, Ultima" may send some of us who want more to the longer, richer novel to satisfy our desire for more depth. "Bless Me, Ultima" is in Spanish with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.