by Jeanne (Pythia) Leiter
You have to see this movie. If you see a single
movie this year, I repeat, you must see this movie.
Yes, it’s about a seven-year-old and his coming of
age. But, ultimately, it’s about the difficulty in
distinguishing good from evil and reconciling
oneself with a Deity who allows evil to exist in the
It’s set in 1944 in a very small farming village
in New Mexico. The villagers are a tight-knit
Catholic community of Mexican-Americans. The story
is told from seven-year-old Antonio’s point of view
with the adult Antonio filling in some thoughts with
Antonio’s life changes forever when his
grandmother comes to live with them. Ultima comes to
live out her remaining time on earth with her
daughter’s family. She brings knowledge of the
natural world to Antonio. She brings healing to the
families of the village. In the minds of the
villagers, and many in today’s modern, scientific
society, healing by Nature is an
unknown–therefore to be suspicious of, to be feared,
if not outright hated.
Even Antonio’s classmates view him differently
after Ultima joins his family. In one playground
scene a classmate calls Ultima a bruja
(witch). To which Antonio replies, "She’s no
bruja." The boy responds with, "Are you calling
me a liar?" The boy pulls off his glasses and jumps
Antonio. Antonio, knowing the truth of his
grandmother as a wise Curandera (healer),
fights for her.
We follow Antonio as he questions everything and
everyone, sometimes verbally, and sometimes by his
actions. His curiosity isn’t stifled by Ultima (the
opposite is true), not by his parents, not by his
classmates even though they ridicule him, and most
especially not by the parish priest who tries
physical punishment to control youngsters’ minds.
Antonio learns about good and evil, sometimes
painfully, but all events make up the pieces of the
picture puzzle of his life. Antonio not only
survives, he grows in knowledge and wisdom.
Stephen Farber said in his review of this movie,
"it evokes a vanished way of life with tenderness
and restraint." I agree with the latter–"tenderness
and restraint", but not with the "vanished way of
life". There are many people I personally know who
are hard at work saving what remains of indigenous
medicines, plants, and animals containing possible
cures for cancer, mental illnesses, etc. I know
Curanderas and Curanderos and Shamans, and many,
many women (and a few men) who don’t claim the name,
but walk the path and do the work. So, the "way
of life", i.e. natural healing with the help of
Mother Earth and Her plants, and listening to what
the wind, water, earth, and animals have to say has
not vanished, it’s merely been weakened. Every day
another Gringo and/or another wise
Latina/Latino hears Mother Earth’s message and says,
As to the technical quality of the film–it was
beautifully photographed, and wonderfully acted (all
Mexican-American roles were actually enacted by
Latina/Latino actors). Some might find sections of
the film slow, I found those sections natural to the
time period and the action. The set designs and
costume designs were appropriate to the forties.
A major studio would never have been interested
in a topic such as this. As I researched the
technical information for the film, I found a very
surprising fact. It was personally funded by Christy
Walton, heir to the Wal-Mart fortune. For the simple
reason that she read the book (same title) by
Rudolfo Anaya and her soul responded.
The pen is mightier than the sword. The pen that
wrote the book, that wrote the screenplay based on
that book, shows us that we receive love and healing
when we align ourselves with Mother Earth. There is
a reason that "Love conquers all" is a cliche. A
cliche is a saying that we all know to be true. So
true it does not need to be stated. Sometimes,
though, it’s nice to see a non-cliche movie show us
that the Earth does indeed love us and gives us
healing if we but ask for it.
Opens: Friday, Feb. 22
Cast: Luke Ganalon, Miriam Colon, Dolores
Heredia, Benito Martinez, Joaquin Cosio, Castulo
Guerra, Alfred Molina.
Director-screenwriter: Carl Franklin
Based on the novel by: Rudolfo Anaya.
Producers: Mark Johnson, Sarah DiLeo, Jesse
Executive producers: Christy Walton, Kevin Reidy.
Director of photography: Paula Huidobro.
Production designer: David Bomba.
Music: Mark Kilian.
Costume designer: Donna Zakowska.
Editors: Alan Heim, Toby Yates.
PG 13 rating, 102 minutes.