Rated PG-13. 106 minutes. At area theaters.
If your youngster is a seeker, you'd be wise to consider a pilgrimage to "Bless Me, Ultima," based on Rudolfo Anaya's landmark, if contested, 1972 coming-of-age novel. She or he will likely find a kindred spirit in 6-year-old Antonio, the youngest of the Márez brood living in Guadalupe, N.M., with parents María and Gabriel and two sisters in 1944. His older brothers are off at war.
That's the year Ultima, the midwife who ushered Antonio into this world, returns to live out her days with his family. She arrives cloaked in black and whispered about by locals who consider the healer, or curandera, a witch.
Theater firebrand and big-screen presence Miriam Colon portrays Ultima with a minimum of fuss and a gorgeous supply of elder authority.
From the start, Ultima takes gentle possession of the boy. He claims her, too. On their walks in the scrub, she points out medicinal properties of flora. He carries a pint-size shovel. Destined to be a priest (or so his mother hopes), he is a magician's apprentice.
Ultima's presence coincides with jarring, confounding events that lead the devout Antonio to ponder his understanding of God. Untimely and violent death, kindness and vengeance, superstition and an earth-bound mysticism challenge the young Catholic's received notions.
If that sounds like a lot of meaning to be carried on small-fry shoulders, actor Luke Ganalon doesn't show it. He's slight of build but has the gaze of a witness.
Actor Alfred Molina provides intermittent, not entirely needed narration. Still, his observations about the land, spirituality and family provide the spine for this sturdy, loving adaptation by director Carl Franklin. (In 2009, local theater company El Centro Su Teatro staged the play.)
"Bless Me, Ultima" may seem like quite the departure for Franklin, the actor-director who broke through with the gritty crime drama "One False Move" and followed up with the neo-noir "Devil in a Blue Dress," which heralded a guy named Don Cheadle.
Instead, Franklin leavens his understanding of on-screen violence (this PG-13 film has its muted share) with an appreciation of New Mexican mysteries and enchantments.
Lisa Kennedy: 303-954-1567, email@example.com or twitter.com/bylisakennedy