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~  February Supplemental  ~



Movie Review: Bless Me, Ultima


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 world.


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 voice-over.


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, "Yes."


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 B’Franklin.

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.




You are sitting around a fire after a hard day of work. The air cools and the sun sets, the frogs and crickets begin singing as the sky darkens. Suddenly the person you have been eagerly awaiting leaps to the center of the circle. Your Shaman begins her story. You have heard the story a hundred times, but the antics of the animals and the wisdom in the story never fail to give you pleasure. As she weaves her tale, the knowledge that every thing is alive, carrying its own power and wisdom, soothes your soul.


Let us join together, in this virtual circle, and share these Animal Tales. Let us once again feel how the stories connect us to the natural world and remind us that we are all part of a vast Circle of Life. Listen now as the Shaman's animal stories whisper tales of that power and wisdom in your ear.


Tonight it is a tale from China. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2013 is the Year of the Snake, bringing us a year for transformation and regeneration. Snake is a potent bringer of healing, and we call on Snake when we focus on the transmutation of energy and the acceptance of all that life bring us.


The White Snake Lady

From Baidu/Baike


In the Song Dynasty, there were two snakes, White Snake and Green Snake, living on the Emei Mountain. Each had magical power. One year, they transformed into two beautiful young ladies and came into the mundane world to find a man named Xu Xian. This man had saved White Snake’s life in a previous reincarnation at the West Lake of Hangzhou city.


White Snake fell in love with Xu Xian at first sight, and transformed into Lady White. They were soon married. Lady White helped her husband open a herbal medicine store and worked with him there writing prescriptions. Patients unable to pay were given free treatment and medicine. The store quickly became well known and popular.


One day a monk called Fa Hai saw the couple and warned Xu Xian that his wife was a white snake. During the Dragon Boat Festival, Chinese families like to decorate their houses with calamus and Chinese mugwort and drink wine to drive away evil spirits. This was dangerous to Lady White and Lady Green (her friend from the Emei mountain), since they were spirits, after all. Lady White was pregnant at that time so her magical power had weakened. She drank some wine to please her husband. Unfortunately, she couldn’t control herself and her human form transformed back into her snake body in her bedroom. Xu Xian saw the white snake on their bed, and was literally scared to death.


When the wine left White Snake, she again transformed into the human Lady White. She saw the dead body of her beloved husband and knew that only the resurrection plants on the Kunlun Mountain could bring him back to life, but all the plants were constantly guarded by two immortals. In order to save her husband/lover, Lady White decided to steal a resurrection plant.


Unfortunately, she failed and was caught by the two immortals. But true love for Xu Xian glowed from her heart like a beacon and it moved the two immortals. They allowed Lady White to take some of the resurrection plants and thus the life of Xu Xian was restored.


When Xu Xian came to his senses, he remembered what Fa Hai had told him about his wife and went to the Jinshan Temple to see him. Fa Hai suggested Xu Xian become a monk to forget his wife. Fa Hai would take care the snake spirits.


She wanted her husband back, so Lady White prayed for help to fight Fa Hai, causing a great army of underwater creatures to bring forth a flood that washed over the Jinshan Temple.


Fa Hai had magical power, too and prayed that heavenly soldiers would save his temple. Since the Lady White was still pregnant, she was too weak to fight hard and her magic was weak. After a while, she gave up the battle to wait until after giving birth to their son.


Xu Xian went to see his son, bringing a magical hat from Fa Hai supposedly as a gift for his son. Xu Xian actually used the magical hat to capture White Snake. Xu Xian brought White Snake and his son back to Jinshan Temple. Fa Hai imprisoned White Snake inside the Leifeng Pagoda.


When Green Snake found out her friend had been imprisoned, she attacked Fa Hai, but was unable to win over Fa Hai by herself. She escaped into the Emei Mountain and practiced her magical power in order to gain strength.


Years passed and the son of Lady White grew up. He saw that his father still loved Lady White, and he knew his mother had been unfairly imprisoned. When he was old enough and strong enough, he avenged his mother. He destroyed the Leifeng Pagoda and rescued White Snake. Thus, White Snake was reunited with her husband and her son.





Animal Tales Column brought to you by Kamala.

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